April of 2014 was a powerful and transformative time. April 2, I flew to Memphis, as my family let me know that the Cancer treatments had began to shut down my mother’s organs. I rushed into her room. I could tell she had been waiting for me to get there. She turned her head; there were no words. Her face was lit behind the veil of death. I tried to joke about stealing her socks. I never brought socks home. I would always wear hers. Not sure why they felt different than my own. They did. My brother, sister there, as well as her husband. My brother stayed by her side the entire time. My sister came in and out holding her hand. I watched them, as if I were some bystander.
My sister held her hand and cried, “Why she gotta be snottin’ and crying on her hands like that, other people want to touch her too!” I laughed at my thought. It gave me joy to laugh. I felt like my mother heard my thoughts. There was an internal riot of laughter, sadness, anger and the empty realization that I was alone in this world brewing. No mother. No father. I went to my room as I leaned over the bed to plug in the phone and I felt two hands pushing me onto the bed. “Just go to sleep, it will be ok when you wake up.” I didn’t argue. I just laid down and immediately drifted. I was awakened to my cousin in the doorway, “She gone mane.” There were no tears that day.
I gathered my things and went to my cousins. I pulled up Facebook and my friend Malik had posted an image that depicted at least 12 Orisha. My eyes zoomed in on one that seemed to dim the others, “Oya”. By nature, I’m a researcher. I pulled up google to see who this Orisha was. I had never heard of her. Shango, Oshun and Yemoja were the only three I had ever heard about. I didn’t know anything about them either. After all, I grew up with a Holiness background. Thanks to my grandmother. My mother was not very religious. Though she prayed, she never forced anything on me, except J.R.O.T.C. So, I was open to this introduction. That night there was a thunderstorm in Memphis. As a child, I was taught to respect lightning. I sat in the room with a friend as a child and lightning struck the digital clock on the head of the bead we were playing on. That moment created a fear and reverence for lightning.
I read, several takes on this orisha. I read about her role in death, spirituality, the marketplace. Instantly, I was intrigued. So many connections and coincidences that made this introduction all too serendipitous.
When I arrived home, I purchased a machete. I wrapped the handle in copper wire. It was cool. I couldn’t explain why I did it. I just felt it was necessary. A few weeks later, I felt like I needed to create an image of her. I knew of her nine colored skirt, her machete, and other tools. As a photographer, I wanted to be able to depict her as she felt to me. I began to create clothes for her. I ordered scarves. I used and old top covered it in burgundy fabric, sewed, some metal pieces from an old necklace. I began to doubt myself and my actions. I could not understand why I was even doing this. I tried to hand the costume making on to a real seamstress. I gave her the things I had already created and never heard from her again.
So here we are ordering again: scarves, vinyl for the belt, belt loop, glue, other accessories. I got a necklace that turned into the top for the shoot. I had everything together, finally, but I could not find the motivation to do the photoshoot. Several months passed and I still hadn’t shot the image. I vacillated between doing the shoot myself and calling a model. There was a nudging that told me, “No, You”. So, I decided, me. The motivation was still not there. I was becoming more comfortable with the idea of myself in the image.
Every summer in my city there are tons of free outdoor festivals. Artscape 2014, I see a young man dressed as Elegba. I rush over and ask, “Hey, can I take your picture? “
We make arrangements and he comes over to shoot. It was cool. We got some nice indoor and outdoor shots. Immediately after his shoot was over, I felt compelled to do the shoot. No makeup. “Let’s just try.” I go get dressed, and the camera was already set up from the last shoot. I take a few shots after I set the timer. I don’t claim to practice anything. I just wanted to share, “How I was Introduced to Oya.”
Feel free to leave a comment or a question. If you can help me understand this experience, your expertise in welcome. There have been other experiences, I’ve had with her. Today, I just wanted to share how I met her.