Ilana Millner

MusicSummer of Blacker LoveWe See You

on god, home, and power with jojo abot

June 15, 2019
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Sweating and thinking about too many things, I walked into a museum space in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, and was taken away by the half-built, half-on-the-ground world that was being installed by artist Jojo Abot and her team. “I didn’t even know what it meant in the beginning. And I still don’t think I know what it means in its entirety because it’s a collective energy that gives it meaning. It’s a collective practice of it and understanding of it, that gives it potency.”

Jojo Abot’s third exhibition that’s paired with an audio-visual project, both entitled Power to the God Within, feels intentional. The red and black interior of the space called HappyLuck No. 1, found on Nostrand Avenue, felt both combative and peaceful. Combative because of the color choices and the volume of work — colorful sculptures and portraits of the artist that aesthetically come together to make for one strong experience making the viewer confront Jojo’s mission, which is, as she puts it, to counter the conflict and war happening in the world with our own ability to self-heal. It’s peaceful because the subject — both literally and the theory she is centering — is about a Godly, not Earthly, power. “I feel like that’s the state of the Black mind, the Black spirit,” she says as she takes a hit off her joint and clears the smoke so she briefly looks like a Black impressionist painting, “There’s so much that stands out to you that comes off initially aggressive, very loud, very present, very consuming. And if you don’t take the moment to actually understand the language of it, you miss the calm, and the beauty and the joy that exists within all of the vivid structures that may either be oppressive or progressive, right. It’s finding that calm within the storm of one’s lineage and one’s bloodline and one’s identity.”

Jojo’s idea of power isn’t about violence or money; it’s about inner peace and the wisdom that unity doesn’t have to be a wish, but a project, if we practice centering the power that’s within us, not the external one we’re taught to desire. “Oppression comes from all spaces. We’re talking about personal oppression, things that we experienced with our parents, traumas related to mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers.” The idea around Power to the God Within is that, yes, as an individual, there are reasons to tap into that divine potential that Abot is pushing us to identify with.

Photo by Ilana Millner

An even more compelling idea that the music and the art presents us — Black folks — is that we must see ourselves as one body. And as one collective body, we must then tap into a global Black diaspora, the power of the God within us, so we might experience a type of peace on Earth that most Black people think is only achievable at death.

”That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” says Abot. “I’m trying to figure out the formula. Because other people have tried and died, let’s be real. I’m not trying to die. No, motherfuckers, no. I believe in a collaborative effort. Something within you has to be provoked to the point where you want to do something for yourself. And the hope is that if your intention is grounded in something that is fruitful, to serve the community around you, it will be reflected in everything that you touch.”

She continues, “So, Power to the God Within has been something that has been in my consciousness and popped up and sat. It was something that, when it came to me, I felt compelled to share daily. And if you go on my page, it’s obsessively written under every post. It was a message that was given to me that I knew I had to continuously share.”

The art of Power to the God Within begs you to attempt to find certainty inside the chaos, find peace inside of war. The reds bleed and her portraits provoke — Jojo Abot looks like an afro-seapunk dream in the photography. You walk and walk and walk, and once you get to the end of the exhibit there’s a glass door that reveals a backyard with greenery, lights, and more art. Once outside, you feel relief. It feels like the garden you have to believe in while inside of the museum, despite not seeing it. It’s the ultimate visual-audio experience of forcing yourself to find peace, and being rewarded with the actual physical, material experience of that peace we all seek. Some might call it home.

Jojo looks over at me knowing what I was going to experience once the exhibit was complete, despite me being none the wiser. She tells me, “Home is together. Our homes need to be cleaned up and renovated. Because the damage that was done through slavery and colonization, apartheid, you know, other spaces is still existing.” And there is no place like Jojo Abot’s home.