SPEAKER SERIES EXPLORES STORYTELLING WITH DIVERSE VOICES
Mo G is a natural hair artist and storyteller who participated in Urban Gateway’s Art & Storytelling Series. Photo provided by Sonya Lewis
Speaker series explores storytelling with diverse voices
BY TIA CAROL JONES
Mo G is a Chicago-based natural hair artist, known to many on Instagram as @ gotothemo. While she is doing people’s hair for hours, there is an opportunity for sharing stories, learning people’s stories and telling her own, as well as explaining the history of natural hair.
“It used to be illegal for enslaved people to do their own hair. They weren’t allowed to do different styles, like cornrows because that meant they had too much time,” she said, adding that is one of her favorite stories to tell.
“Because that took away bonding experiences from mother, from child, from parents, from aunties, because they didn’t have the time to sit and just do each other’s hair.”
Mo G’s own hair journey started when she tried to give herself a relaxer and wound up with a chemical burn. She found to never touch chemicals again and she said she stuck to that.
Mo G, who has been doing hair for 20 years, was one of four people who participated in Urban Gateway’s Art & Storytelling, an immersive speaker series that explores the ways people illustrate and build narratives with creative bodies of work. “I really wanted to be part of this speaking series because natural hair is an art form and it should be seen and valued as such. I think representation is everything,” Mo G said. “I like to let young kids know there are so many different avenues of careers you can take. Being able to do hair should be valued as such.”
Art & Storytelling is part of the 60-year-old organization’s Art & Speaker series. Due to COVID-19, programs are being hosted virtually. “The Art & Speaker Series is new territory for Urban Gateways. Not only are we stepping into the world of virtual arts programming, but we are also creating a platform for artists, art administrators, art enthusiasts and community members to converse about art and thought-provoking topics. I am extremely thrilled to oversee the Art & Speaker Series and the first installment, Art & Storytelling is sure to blow everyone away. Spending time with Bill Eller, Zahra Glenda Baker and Mo G was extremely refreshing and I can’t wait for the world to experience their artistry,” said Keyana Marshall, strategic engagement manager of Urban Gateways.
Zahra Glenda Baker is an artist and storyteller who has been a music instructor with Chicago Public Schools for 25 years. Baker said she participated in the series because she wanted to inspire youth to keep finding love of artistic expression, the same way music was for her.
“Music has been a healing force, for me personally, but my research allowed me to realize that it’s one of the tools of survival for our people,” she said. “Even though it was a tool in the past, it is organic, so that means, it can be relevant as a tool in this moment for us to figure out ways to use the arts as a way to help us move through our challenges.”
Baker’s first memory of music is from the sensation of her grandmother who would hum and sing. She was a part of the church community and she was a quilter. “Everything that she did was connected to humming and that vibration I believe is something she left me with. So, whether I’m hearing music or singing it, something is transformative to me about it. It’s what I call home,” she said.
Mo G said it is extremely important to amplify Black voices because Black people can be very under-represented and representation is important. “It’s important to share the variety of people and how we’re all just as important and valued, just as much as everybody else, even though we’re not represented as much. It’s important to change the narrative,” she said.
Baker said while attending Butler University, classical music was considered top of the line and she was expected to let go of her Baptist, gospel and spiritual music experiences and only sing classical music and what was written on the page. “I didn’t want to leave all of that behind in order to step into this room and I think that was - when I look back on it now- that’s supremacy. That’s what supremacy is, saying you can come into this room, but you gotta leave all of your culture behind,” she said. “I wanted institutions to recognize that you could learn all of the fundamentals of music inside of our culture. It’s Africa, we’ve been doing music for [a] long, long time, long before Europeans stepped on the set and said this is the only way that you should do it. I feel like Black voices need to be heard and our culture needs to be fully recognized.”
The next in the series, Art & Race, will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15. To watch Arts & Storytelling, visit www.urbangateways.org.