American Realness

On Gaskin & Kosoko

By Keijaun Thomas

keyon gaskin
[a swatch of lavender]: a self portrait

Also featuring a book created in collaboration with sidony o’neal, Litia Perta, and Sharita Towne.

When I began taking notes and writing about [A SWATCH OF LAVENDER]: A SELF PORTRAIT, I wanted to portray how it felt to be in the room with Keyon and his collaborators as a cohesive unit, with multiple moving parts that made up a series of cycles. Each cycle, gesture, movement and transition a factor in the story. Each moment feels like a page. I walk into the room and Keyon is waiting for us. They tell us how it’s going to start but not when then hand us a book that is square shaped with purple paint on it, it looks like they’ve rubbed the book portrait with their hands. A hand print. Each one uniquely graced. It feels Intimate. Looking at the audience mingling and drinking wine. Keyon says, I’m gonna make them move from against the wall soon and the audience can be anywhere in the space. Move around. Drink wine and have some snacks.

I make my way onto the space, holding the book. Open. Flipping through the pages… theses moments stand out:


“I did not agree to this”

“The blankets beneath me are softer when lying down to sleep away the feeling”

Blanket pages empty

“Dafuq you looking at?”

“The book as dance”

Lavender fields

Upside down, you got to flip the book over now to continue reading. The performance has already begun.

Pot on head, scoot and balance.
Sequined page, flip.
Rooster lamp, Move. Eyes closed, steady

We all hold some of them… pieces of the portrait, perhaps. I hold the book to my chest, making sure it is safe. I feel closer now that it’s started. As I am watching the performers I think to myself: We feel the wait now of the body and the book body as dance. Lying down, I peek thru a crowd of feet. Tap shoes, sound. There are multiple pages all happening at the same time. The audience moves to keep up. There are multiple parts that make up the whole. You have to move, you have to pay attention and multitask. Boiling ramen in a corner.

How many bodies move to see what’s happening. We become apart of choreography, the cycle. Leaving traces. Self portrait, selfie, can you take a pic with me. Pose. You smell the ramen. You can hear the water boiling. Ramen tracks on the floor mirror the field of lavender rows in book. Ramen as hair got Ready-Set-Cooked but not seasoned. Set this shit on fire. You can smell the burning, too. We are dancing, dancing around each other, moving. Phone in jar, she’s ready. Dance.

I look over and there is someone standing in the corner, back of the room rubbing their feet together, no shoes. The cycle begins. Cleans up her mess. Now a pile is forming next to the rooster lamp. How many pieces till the portrait is complete. Moves thru the crowd, they been moving, moving us from the jump. Their shirt reads, “I suck” same text and color as in book. Purple.

The plants rises again but this time there’s no hair to help it balance on top of their head. People want to see magic they want to see ha balance and by “ha”, I mean, her and by her I mean the plant. Like waiting for a magic trick, they want them to succeed. Reward them with claps and applause. You smell black hair burning. They end up here, next to, on top of, around, the rooster. Make the sequins reflect!! Shining, granted beauty. We reflect together, there is overlap,
Moving together.

Princess Nokia

All the books have been collected now, too. I think to myself, “Give me my body back”, and by “my”, I mean Keyon’s, book but ours now too.


Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

with special guest M. Lamar

I walk into the theater and it is sold out and full. I find myself in the very from of the room sitting on the floor. Immediately upon entering the room you walk in and Lamar is at the piano—they are singing and playing.The energy in the room in electric. People talking, listening and finding space. I am looking around the room trying to orient myself:

White baby doll cut-outs

Mylar wall

A table for two

Two wooden chairs (one has a white robe)

Two cups

An electric kettle

A portrait of a black man


I see an X and I think to myself X marks the spot. The piece has started before we even enter. Selfie recording, self playing the piano. A record of sorts. We hear the voice and The piano.




Orchid rest on top of the piano. Little black figurines. We wait. The audience. Active talking and you can feel the shift in Lamar’s voice. Earth shatteringly beautiful and hunting at the same damn time. Becoming, shifting. Messy and contained. I keep on looking closer and a skull reveals itself under the sheer fabric on the floor. There are small details everywhere, if you take the time to look for them and or allow them to find you.

Jaamil enter the room with a sheer robe, sequin bottoms and black gloves to the elbows. Black lipstick. A short haircut. With their hands together and they feel like hands they’ve been to church. Like my aunties’ hands or my mother’s hands or my grandmother’s hands.

They see a friend, they say hello.

Then I remember I’m not supposed to be here. I came to the theater because I couldn’t make it to the day that I was scheduled to see their performance, but I’m here, inside. Thankful. As Jaamil walks through the center of the aisle speaking to audience they offer us chocolate candy kisses. Pass the kisses. You want a kiss? They ask the audience as they make their way through the audience.

I need someone to take care of Tata (a black baby doll). They ask who can take care of this black baby and add you HAVE to make sure you take good care of them. Handling with care. Healing

And Lamar begins to speak (filled with gratitude)

They let us into their day and what they’ve been thinking about lately around there own death and accomplishments. Playing with metal (actually plastic infused with light). Police button. Making the plastic chains float they feel like ghost. Black radical tradition…We have to bring martin Luther King up because this is his day, Jaamil states then they continue: You always ready to die (and through this you might be able to access of legacies and histories )

Education as a process of dying.

I can’t die yet because I have so much work to do (Lamar)

I am listening to them and I ask myself: What does it mean to share Performance space? to share the stage? How do you let each other hold space? How do we hold space for each other to thrive and be of service to each other?

They sit down on the floor with us and begin to speak:

In order to survive

Only interested in talking about black people

Black voices

All voices matter

The voice begins to echo


Blood, in the sand , the only liquid for miles

And the imagined taste



The Whiteness of desert sand

Only the sun will bleach his bones quicker!

Stepping on white babies
And there are tapes to prove that

What is justice?

When is it done?

4 centuries of white male approval

I have not been able to touch the destruction within me

They turn the kettle on… and the black Barbie rests, the lights go down. Under strips of ribbons.Wild like the wind on the surface of the desert. Free as the pom poms of a cheerleader raising every voice. Lost in the storm. Angel wings flapping in gold ribbons. We are in the eye of the storm. Sitting down, they feel so familiar like a mother, a mother who has had a longggggg day. Pouring hot water. affluent. Tea time. Class. Stress
Black, mother and child

and I find myself at the language of my youth. I know this body, I recognize this language, the body. Remembered. Black, man, child. So sharp. Cuts anyone who gets too close. Blowing up condoms like balloons.

“Lost in your own pussy”
“I just get so lost”

You got a little heart in your t

“I try my whole asss life”


“To live and be good”

What does it mean to try your whole ass life, I think to myself. Dancing in the black light. Be myself . Ghost like, “Didn’t want my body no more”. They leave the stage, but you know there is more to learn. Light pulses, Smoke rises. They reappear as sequined stars. New weave on fleek and the center of the room in a bodysuit. I remember to look back and check on the black baby doll. As the person holding them, is directly behind me. I ask myself, Who remembers? What do we pay attention to? Who else is thinking about little black kids and our well being? Entertaining. Piano Playing. High Drama. The diva. Exaggerated. “What they want?” Close to death? “Everyday we get closer to being a ghost”. The audience laughs. I wonder if they listening tho? They say, “you made me into an entertainer. A clown. A happy meal” Then put on blonde, white gurl mask with a blow up doll open mouth. Nappy blonde hair. Backwards. The previous Afro wig fills out white girl face. Walking up the aisle through the audience. Close enough to touch. Dancing for us. I recognize the music from Jason Friday the 13th soundtrack. Compiled. accumulated. Wrestling on the floor. A pile of white bodies and synthetic hair, They are In the spotlight, now. White theology. How do you actualize the reality of a world where whiteness is no longer an essential? This stick with me. Blowing up another condom. We are prepared now. Waiting for the pop! “I tried my wholes best tonight”.

Photo By Ian Douglas