Guiding Light: Yolanda “Yogii with 2 i’s” Barnes

Photo Credit James Bass

I first heard Yolanda “Yogii with 2 i’s” Barnes do an extemporaneous motivational speech at El’Ja Bowen’s 3:10 book reading at the Arts Council downtown. Her stories trilled, dipped, pushed, and pulled. She was mesmerizing. So it was no surprise to find out her background with Toastmasters and she was obviously ingrained into the local slam poetry scene. But the more you talk to Yogii, the more expansive you realize her artwork is. And her community. And her heart.

El’Ja was kind enough to provide her intro: Yolanda A. Barnes aka Yogii With 2 I’s is an award winning Spoken Word artist, painter, and workshop facilitator. She is credited for being the first Fayetteville poet to compete in a major regional slam competition that in turn brought the city of Fayetteville visible to the Poetry Slam world. She is also the author of the book, “Y Aren’t U Listening” and the owner of Inspired Ink Creative Consulting.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is definitely being able to not only grow myself, but to have the ones around me grow as well. So if there’s no growth in me and there’s no growth for the people around me, I’m not successful. I love being able to walk around and see all the seeds that have been planted–whether they were intentional or unintentional–and everything they have produced in the harvest; it’s been amazing. Success to me is just being able to not only do well for me, but to do well for the people around me and my community: as big as slam coming to Fayetteville on a national scene and to as small as my daughter passing her EOGs, and everything in between. 

Success is definitely not just a singular thing for me. It’s a group effort. I can’t tell you how many babies –I call all the poets, babies–how many poets I have named, or how many poets I have given counsel to, or how many poets have just come to just sit near me at a show just because, they didn’t want anything, they just wanted to sit there. Then they grow out and branch off into these trees, these teams, they leave the state, they go do other things, but that stem is still rooted, what they learned. And those are things that are beautiful to me. 

Becoming a mother with a preemie baby– now a vibrant creative tween– changed how Yogii thought of success and her own artistic practice. 

I was no longer Yogii the poet that I had been prior. My complete and utter life flipped on its head. I felt the death of me. I felt like my voice was no longer the same as it was before. I honestly was grappling with how do I become this mother? And how do I continue to live in the shell of what I was? And there’s no real way to do that. The butterfly doesn’t have a choice of staying kind of in. And so I had no choice but to become that butterfly. It’s still every day deciding to be that butterfly and not go back to the Caterpillar.

But I got a chance to see myself and to deal with me in a way that helps me grow and become more successful in the process. It was different; my poetry was different. I was everything from angry to sad to hopeful and yet melancholy at the same time. It was just a mix of things that I hadn’t felt all at one time. Some days are better than others, but I’m better for that process everyday.

Photo Credit Eric L. Brim

What changes in your audience do you seek to make with your art? 

I love being the person that teaches without people knowing I’m teaching them. I don’t want to be the person that’s like, “Hey, you gotta do this and you gotta do that” because people don’t learn that way. But if I can get you to laugh and we can talk and have a conversation, and then I can hit you with a question every now and again, and then I can give you a long pregnant pause for you to think about some things, and then we come back and talk about it again later. If my art does that, in a poem or on canvas or my mannequins or different avenues, various techniques and skill sets, to make you look, and then look again and then make you wonder. I think if my art doesn’t make you wonder, if my art doesn’t make you sit quietly and reflect, then I’m not doing something right, because I need you to go within yourself and say, “how do I feel about that?” Or even just want to think about that. Cause a lot of people don’t have time and don’t make time. And that is one of those things that I want for my art to do, if it’s singing, if it’s rapping, if it’s painting, if it’s drawing, whatever it is that I’m doing, if I can get you just to say, “how does that relate to me?” That’s when I’m hitting on something.

How have you constructed the bridges of your career?

Honestly, I was doing a certain thing by accident back in the day: categorizing people. So if you know me from poetry, then I’m not going to put you in my art realm or I’m not going to put you in my music route. But I didn’t realize the six degrees of separation is real. And because it is so real, when I would put people in those different categories and people would know each other from those different categories, they’d be like, “well you mean Yogii the poet?”

And they’d be like, no, I mean, the artist, 

no, you mean the singer, 

but like, no you mean the girl that works at Belk.” 

Somebody told me “you wrote a book, I don’t even know why you didn’t tell me.” Well, you’re not in that box, you know? But that’s how that works and now people want to know more about my work.

Another thing I did was I wanted to prove things to myself. When I went to Southern Fried Poetry, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know it was the second largest national poetry festival. I had no idea. I just put my money up and decided to go. I didn’t tell anybody. Finally, I told El’Ja, “You need to see this.” It was like the last two days of competition, the day before the final stage, and he knew a lot of the people there. I didn’t hardly know anybody, but I wanted it that way. I was trying to prove to myself that I was not wasting my time by writing poetry, by being just who I was. I was proving to myself that it wasn’t a waste of time. And I think for me, a lot of things that I have done and still do to this day are just to prove a point to myself. 

A lot of times, too, for me, it takes a contest. When I wrote my first book, I put it up for a contest. So Fried, that was a contest. The wire dress was for a contest. Sometimes that extra push of a contest makes it even more exciting: just being able to know that it can be done, even if I don’t know anything about it, makes it even more amazing.

And I pivot myself into positions that have always been able to bridge me into the next thing. People don’t believe it, but sometimes you just gotta go, you gotta do. Because if you’re in that space, they will see you and they will wonder about you and they will make room for your talents. I continue to put myself in places that most people wouldn’t even dare, just because they thought they wouldn’t make it in that space. I’m in that space and you’re going to see me. 

Photo Credit Eric L. Brim

Who do you consider your present artistic cohort? 

I have been going to writing workshops during this whole pandemic: Cultivating Content, Craft, and Conversation by Christine-Jean Blain and Kimberley Gaubault. It’s open with donation for anybody to come to the workshop. They are amazing: they push and they question and they give the best prompts. When I’m there in that virtual space, I feel free. I can write, I can really just put pen to pad: whatever comes out comes out. I give them a lot of credit for creating that space. There’s other workshops I’ve gone to and I have my own artists’ retreats where I work with people. But for me, for that release, yeah, that does it. 

Right now I’m focused on writing, but when summer hits, I go back into painting because I can be outside. I can’t wait to get on canvas cause I want to practice more with watercolors. I have lots of visions in my mind, so I want to get those down. Usually I cycle a year creatively, so when I can get outside, that’s usually the time I paint and when it’s cold outside is when I’m inside, working on next year’s plans or writing and doing things. 

The Many Forms of Sculpture and Learning of Damien Mathis

Damien Mathis

Painter and sculptor Damien Mathis is a Fayetteville native and resident, and an avid Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club member. A Marine Corps Combat veteran, Mathis served two tours in Afghanistan with 1/6 Bravo Infantry Battalion before earning a Bachelor’s in Visual Arts from HBCU Fayetteville State University. Mathis recalls drawing as a child even before he learned to write, but only began painting eight years ago, in his early twenties. His art has since been collected and exhibited throughout the U.S., including the Arts Council of Fayetteville, the Harlem Fine Arts Show, Fayetteville State University, A&T, and various communities along the coast.

3 Things you can’t live without & why: The 3 things I can’t live without is ambition, blessings, and lessons. You need all of them to become individually great. They will balance you.

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Shane Wilson is a good friend who taught me the meaning of a giving friend. He has a welcoming heart open to the world around him. Other artists are Professor Dwight Smith and Professor Soni Martin of Fayetteville State University: they taught me the freedom of the mind with all materials and to always trust the process.

What is one of your current artistic experiments? My current artistic experiments are learning how to mold and shape fiberglass and different resins with different materials.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Self management and preventive procrastination changed in my practice in 2020.

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I mostly do my creating in various places–maybe in my studio or in the woods somewhere–where everything feels natural. It just at that moment has to have a calming environment as the foundation to start the process.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Usually the next idea just comes from everyday thought in life… sometimes it’s from boredom. I guess it’s just supposed to be created into what it shall be.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. You don’t know everything. You barely even know yourself. Never stop trying to learn or pick someone’s ear. Never know where your interest may take you!!! Creating comes in many forms.

 

Guiding Light: Dwight Smith

Smith with portrait done by Angela Stout, 2019.

Sometimes you meet someone in one context and then rediscover them in a different one and it’s almost as if the Heaven’s part and light shines down on them. I met Dwight Smith through his impeccable volunteer work with the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, which goes to show how deeply he cares about his chosen community of Fayetteville, since his hometown is Detroit. But in researching and talking with him about his painting, teaching at Fayetteville State University, and curation for Ellington-White Contemporary Art Gallery, it became much clearer why Smith is such a Guiding Light for his students, his audience, and all of us lucky enough to be blessed by his art and his wisdom.


What does success mean to you? “I’m the kind of person that always makes a plan. I always tell my students that you’ll never be successful if you don’t have a plan and then you implement those plans. And once complete that plan, that’s success. Then I make another plan for myself. I think that in making those plans, I’m moderately successful because I simply have enjoyed all the things that have happened to me in this creative journey.” Smith has traveled the world thanks to his art–trips to France, Senegal, Surinam, and China are especially memorable–and been able to meet and work with many of the artists he admires.

“I think I have a relatively successful career in life and I think it will just get even better. You never, never stop. You just keep working. You keep planning, you keep setting goals and you keep implementing and trying to make things happen that you want to see happen. Sometimes you have to do it for yourself. And sometimes there are other people who will see that you’re moving in a positive direction and they will help you do the kinds of things that you want to do.”

How have you constructed the bridges of your career? A successful career in Detroit, a myriad of solo or group shows, a well-respected gallery, an assistant professor-ship, even being a guest at a White House reception to honor ten Black American Art Masters: are some of the high points of Smith’s career. He jokes, “I never thought that my artworks would be in some of the collections that they’re in, so I’m very humbled about that, and I’m just very surprised. I’ll be honest: I’m surprised. Wait, how did I get here?”

“When you make a plan, you have to also say, okay, what do I need to accomplish to get to this goal, achieve the success. Sometimes those successes come to you because you’ve already done the preparation and you can then handle whatever comes. I belong to an organization called the National Conference of Artists, which is a national African-American art organization that I’m trying to get a chapter started here in North Carolina, and working with them and doing conferences and projects and planning, I have met so many artists, the people that I read about in books: David Driscoll, Elizabeth Catlett, Richmond Barthe, Samella Lewis, all these artists that we all look up to, I’ve met them all, sat down and had conversations with them. So it’s being prepared and being the kind of person that you understand your craft or learning about your craft, developing your craft, and you’re open to experiencing and receiving the information from those artists you look up to.”

Homage to Al Loving“, watercolor collage

Who is in your artistic cohort?
Smith looked up to and learned from several mentors, other artists who “when they see you in a crowd, they point to you and say, hey, how are you doing, what’s going on and catching up. Sometimes you may not see them for a year, and then you’ve not lost the beat when you see them again.” Black art history legend Shirley Woodson Reid who was just named the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist. Jon Onye Lockard, who Smith said was “the kind of mentor that would tell you “That’s really good. Or Dwight don’t tell that to anybody else anymore.” Jon was very special to me.” Willis Bing Davis in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. David Driscoll, who passed away in 2020. Then there are artists he still wants to meet, like Mark Bradford, “who is just phenomenal in his abstraction and the work that he’s doing. So I have those people that I really like and have those people that I’d like to meet. Hopefully the universe will take me in that direction.”

Smith curated an exhibition currently at the Arts Council and at Ellington-White Contemporary Art Gallery called Roots of Change, featuring 60 works by twenty-nine artists from a group he’s a member of called the National Alliance of Artists from HBCUs. “My ability to be able to create this exhibition with all of those wonderful artists is about being involved in these organizations. Becoming an associate professor at Fayetteville State University opened up avenues to these other historically black colleges and universities to continue to build my career and to help them build their careers. I am the kind of person where I will build you up while I’m building me up too. I never liked to do anything by myself. I like to take a group.”

My Soul Captures the Night Light and ignites the trail”, mixed media on canvas

What change do you seek to make with your art, and how has that changed over time, if it has? “Well, when I started out, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just had the desire to make art. While I was at Wayne State University, it was steeped in German Abstract Expressionism, very popular at that time period. I really liked the abstract, because that’s a broad term that allows me to do a lot of different things, spread my wings a lot of different ways and use a lot of different materials.” Besides painting, Smith does drawings, collage, and has even worked in bronze casting. “Over the years, my work has developed into being work that deals with families, celebrations of artists, the whole sense of being a black male in America, a black artist in America.”

As a teacher, both at University and in summer camps and classes, Smith carries specific principles he imparts to his students. “Your voice is what’s important. You need to be the new voice that we hear, that has something to say. You have the artist statements that you will write and those will evolve over time because your work will evolve over time. You may stay in the same lane, but the work becomes mature because you’ve worked out a lot of the technical aspects in it, the ideology, all the information that goes with it. So, I’m always evaluating my work and trying to improve my work and see what’s missing in my work, what holes do I need to fill to keep me being excited about making art. Although there are times that as an artist, that sometime you just have to make art, your brain will go: If I don’t get into the studio, I’m going to explode. You have to get to that studio and you have to work. It’s just who you are.”

Photographer Shane Booth on Stories of Self and Place

Photographer Shane Booth, with Helen.

Shane Booth grew up in central Nebraska where he would spend hours looking at family photos with his grandmother, sparking his love for photography. He graduated with a BA in art from Nebraska Wesleyan University and an MFA in photography from the Savanna College of Art and Design. Currently he is a Full Professor of photography at Fayetteville State University. His diverse body of work has taken him all over the world where he has taught workshops and exhibited work in Sweden, Africa, Taiwan, and most recently Russia. He received a grant to work with HIV positive orphans in Ethiopia with Artists for Charity, and was awarded a another grant by the US Embassy in Moscow to work with the LGBTQ and HIV positive people in Russia. He has many honors including being nominated for Sweden’s favorite TV star by QX magazine for his stint on the wildly popular reality tv show Allt for Sverige, tackling the subject of being HIV positive. It was his time on this show that took him back to his roots and he began photographing Nebraska and its people. He also photographed Laura Bush for The National Willa Cather Foundation. His camera of choice is an antique studio camera from 1867 which he found in a junk shop in Alma NE that he has converted to shoot 8×10 film.  

3 Things you can’t live without & why: I cannot live without Coffee (Starbucks is the best).  I learned to drink it in Sweden and have been addicted ever since! Pandemic Taylor Swift ( her last two albums were brilliant). I have literally listened to nothing but those two albums for 6 months now. And of course my camera. Or actually any type of camera will do. I love making images!!

Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Hmmmm, that’s a hard one but I am gonna have to say Sara Meyers Sourcier! I would love to have the ability to paint like she does! Oh the stories I could tell if I had that ability!!

What is one of your current artistic experiments? I am currently working with Cyanotypes combining my love for graphic arts and ancient photography techniques. I love combining new technology with antique processes. I combine digital photography and graphics with the cyanotype process.

What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? During the pandemic I have had the motto “just make it”. All of my work is deeply personal and with so much time, I have had the opportunity to flush out some of the ideas that live in my head. Some have been successful and others not so much. Being your authentic self is so important when making art. So much soul searching happened during the pandemic and my photography has been a great way to express that. I will definitely continue to work with this freedom!

Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. As a photographer I practice my art wherever my subject is. This is consistently Nebraska and my home in Benson NC.

How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? My voice comes from my life experiences  and my Nebraska upbringing. My artwork often revolves around pastoral scenes that have deeper meanings. The Landscapes are self-portraits, and the portraits tell stories. My love of the Nebraska author Willa Cather is also a great influence on my work. Her ability to connect the reader to the subject is something I aspire to do with my photography.

Advice to newer artists in your genre. My advice to artists is always be your authentic self! It is so important to make work about what you know.