Currently living in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mary Lodu works at the Walker Art Center and is on the board of a non profit "Altered Esthetics". When we asked Mary if there is anything specific she wanted us to include in her bio this was her response..."I'm the realist nigga alive 🙏🏿."
Sedate: Where are you from? Where are you now where are you going?
Mary Lodu: I’m a Kenyan-born, first generation South Sudanese American who fled to the states with my family of eight in 1995 to escape the Sudanese Civil War. I’m currently living in St. Paul while attending my last year at the University of Minnesota for Art History, but I eventually plan on relocating to the east to pursue a graduate degree in critical/curatorial studies.
S: Talk to us about navigating the art world/academia as a black girl?
ML: Being black and a woman whilst trying to juggle between being an artist and academic is just bound to be an isolating experience. It’s also no different from the rest of academia in how the visibility of black art historians is lacking because the field is widely dominated by white scholars even when you’re seeking out writings or studies specific to black/African cultures. One of my biggest frustrations is that all of my knowledge on black/African art history has come from self-directed research because it’s simply excluded from most curriculums, where the white, Western canon is valued above all else. So I feel like I have a responsibility to help strengthen a discourse that is centered on black artists or more specifically, black women artists because WE OUT HEA and deserve to be illuminated.
I’m also ½ of South Sudan: Art and Visual Culture, which is an online platform/archive of curated content celebrating our country’s visual history and we’re hoping to expand it into something more concrete in the future. As far as art making goes, right now I’m really into submitting illustrations for zines because I like the notion of art as a tool for healing or resistance in communities of color. I feel like zines (whether they are distributed physically or published online/disseminated through spaces like Tumblr) provide a crucial platform for self-expression especially for black girls/woc in need of a creative outlet for dealing with the oppression and silence we face. They’re also just a relatively cheap and accessible way to get your shit out there and establish a community with other cute, dope ass creatives. I also make and sell jewelry specifically catered to black girls on my Etsy shop binia, which means girl in Juba Arabic.
S: As a woman of color, what can you say about the effects of oppression on mental health?
ML: There needs to be more discussions on the psychological effects of racism because they’re so so real and the general attitude towards mental health in a lot of black communities, be it African American or Sudanese is also troubling because depression is viewed as a personal weakness for spiritual reasons, which only creates barriers to accessing proper treatment as if there aren’t enough already. Then there’s that tired ass trope of the strong black woman that feeds into our tendency to ignore our pain and minimize our needs for everyone else’s sake, so essentially, there’s no easy route to overcoming that trauma but I will say that committing to radical self-care and seeking out a safe community to heal and recover with can be beneficial.
S: What, if anything, would you change about today’s youth culture?
ML: I don’t know if there is anything I would specifically change but the Internet is such a key factor in youth culture today so I’m interested in exploring research on the implications of that further. It’s difficult to make any definite assertions about this phenomenon because we’re still living in this very moment but I will say though that the Internet and social media platforms in general definitely serve as tools of empowerment for marginalized groups but they can also give the illusion of being “safe spaces.” It essentially boils down to praxis and this is something I’m guilty of as well, like how can I put theory into practice and utilize what I’ve gained from having a social media presence as a beneficial tool for the people in my? That’s just a fraction of the challenges I’m attempting to overcome but I’m still here and I’m still thriving.
Check out the Walker Art Center and Altered Esthetics
Photos by Alex Chapin