Several attendees actually passed up the space—an unassuming front on Maple Street just south of downtown, where a potted plant held a small sign pointing to a rear, large warehouse.
“It’s whatever it needs to be at any given time,” owner Skira Martinez said. She likes the non-descript address on Maple Street and intentionally keeps it low key.
“As an artist I want to be discreet,” she said. “I’m not trying to start gentrification here, where all of a sudden there’s metered parking on the street.”
On Saturday, the space hosted “The Blk Grrrl Book Fair,” an eclectic collaboration between Martinez and Teka-Lark Fleming.
“We don’t need an industry to tell us what to wear, how to wear, or where to wear it,” performance artist Uhuru spoke firmly into the mike in a staccato, almost alien voice which was accented by her silver metallic, pointed bra, black parachute pants and teal-colored afro, tied with kente cloth.
“Before the people prosper, we must unite!” concluded the Snatch Power Radio titan, her voice echoing through the space.
Martinez has been living in the warehouse nearly four years. It hosts a “Liberation School,” social action meetings, photo shoots, social justice gatherings and, according to Martinez, “anything that deals with art, education and action.”
The Anarchist Book Fair was originally scheduled for the weekend, but they cancelled and won’t use the space until December.
“I wanted to have a big, major literary event before December,” Martinez said. “Teka is a great organizer, she’s on the ball. I’m more laid back… our opposites really complement each other.”
Fleming, the host of “MPC presents The Blk Grrrl Show,” produced this event, featuring more than 50 vendors, ranging from Afropuff to the Zine Library.
“I sent out 233 emails asking if they wanted to participate,” Fleming said. “Literature is impactful. Whoever writes down history gets to say what happened. All the new, social mediums are OK, but we still need to be reading books and poetry.”
Vendors complemented Martinez on her organization of the booths, utilizing every nook and cranny of the space to showcase books, jewelry, magazines, vintage clothing and craft workshops for kids. She even had someone in her kitchen preparing and selling foodstuffs.
As Martinez helped vendors, Teka introduced the acts and made sure the short films flowed seamlessly as they were being projected in the darkened room downstairs.
One of the short films, “Black Cotton,” documented the making of a coffee table book of the same name which celebrates the strength of women and their hair. The authors were on hand to answer questions about the book, noting how they were inspired by the realization that the afro resembles a cotton ball.
“Yes, there’s a troubling relationship we have with cotton,” Tomeekha Pitre-Escott said. “But our ancestry goes beyond that. Our people and the strength they had to do that, to endure past that—we wanted to pay homage to that period and time.”
Models wore extensive makeup and African and Asian costumes in the photo art book, often wielding swords or other weaponry.
“It’s way beyond the hair,” Pitre-Escott said.
Author S. Pearl came to the mike to read from her book “Black Women for Beginners,” one in a series of For Beginners documentary comic books published in the 90s. Pearl told the audience she really enjoyed writing the non-fiction works with other authors because “it allowed us to be a little irreverent and sassy with the content.”
The book opens: “There are 519 million, 870 thousand Black Women on the planet Earth, give or take a dozen. There’s a Black Woman on each of the seven continents, in almost every country and in the space program. So no matter where you go, she’s already been there. She travels with forces greater than herself. Her presence is everywhere. The BW is the African Diaspora in its highest feminine form.”
“She is so bodacious,” Pearl read, “that, here at the head of the 21st Century, other folks are now claiming to be her.”