In a small corner of Anacostia where the vestiges of D.C.’s Chocolate City remain, lovers of everything black, beautiful and wondrous gathered to dance, mingle and heal.
The Black Love Experience in its 5th year at the Anacostia Art Center went down Saturday March 21st, bringing together art, music, food and energy to celebrate Black culture in all its splendor. This year’s theme, #passporttowakanda, not only nodded to the cultural turning point that is the Black Panther movie but created a realistic interpretation of what a celebration in the mythical Wakanda would look, feel, smell and taste like.
In its fifth year, The Black Love Experience, hosted at the Anacostia Arts Center, is an event for District residents to convene for a celebration of arts, dancing, love, spirituality, and Black culture. (Courtesy Photo)
Originally conceived by Afro-visionary Anika Hobbs, owner of Pan-African retail haven Nubian Hueman, Black Love Experience features brands, musicians and artists from all over the diaspora. Hobbs created the event shortly after opening her retail go-to inside of the arts center to drum up support for her business and highlight the work of brands in her store. “I decided to throw a small event with a few vendors and a DJ to bring folks out and enjoy love and our Blackness,” Hobbs told the AFRO.
To capture the full breadth of this event would be a fruitless endeavor but for those seeking to understand what a well curated celebration of Pan-Africanist culture can be, here is a glimpse of what went down.
In its first year, Black Love occupied just the halls of the Anacostia Arts Center and the Nubian Hueman Storefront. Its 5th showing, however, saw it stretch its arms to neighboring Honfleur Gallery and subterranean coworking space The Hive to encompass twelve zones of engagement. With the additional space, organizers created standalone experiences that were intimate yet coherent in messaging.
After waiting in a line that sometimes stretched the length of the block, revelers were greeted by vendors with all sorts of goods to peruse. Hands rummaged through everything from vintage fits, tees and sweats with pro-black slogans to body adornments and scrubs as far as the eye could see. Eyes danced from stall to wall to ceiling drinking in the carefully crafted afrofuturist art installations against the backdrop of the colorful goods, people and light bouncing through the room. Ears two-stepped to the sounds of DJ Underdog carving paths through afrobeat, hip-hop, funk, dance hall and every sound under the black moon.
If you doubted that you were to be considered a King or Queen, the Crowns N’ Thrones installation presented four adornments to choose from before guests sat on a black and gold accented throne. Photographers captured guests in all their regal splendor.
The center’s Blackbox Theater featured both gender specific and co-ed workshops, theatre pieces and meditation circles centered around healing and wellness. The 30 minute to hour long sessions provided a calming energy to the contrast of the jubilee outside its doors. Practitioners, healers and speakers touched on everything from Feminine Folklore, womb steaming, paranormal afrofuturism to mental health exercises for letting go of hurt.
Hobbs said that the healing energy was an intentional element to this year’s event,
“What stood out this year was the intention of my curation team. How we decided to really go deeper into healing through sound, sight, meditation.”
Lovers of live music headed downstairs to a space normally occupied by co-working hub The Hive. The space was transformed into a Wakandan rent party styled concert venue. Curated by Jay Sun, the lineup included D.C. artists like Tabi Bonney, Black Love Band and Jabari Exum. Tabi gifted the crowd with his classic “Put Me in the Pocket” but also performed brand new music due to be released next month. Exum, drummer and choreographer for the movie Black Panther, greeted the crowd with a drumming showcase that nodded to the ancestral traditions of African music mixed with current popular culture. All the music wasn’t local, however, as the basement stage was also graced by the Aaron Abernathy & the Nat Turner Band and D.C. born, Atlanta living Goddess MC Sa-Roc. Abernathy mixed an R&B sound equal parts Deangelo, P-Funk and Anthony Hamilton into a sound both familiar and fresh while Sa-Roc recalled her routes riding the A buses from Congress Heights for a performance so spirited that even if you didn’t know the words lifted your spiritual energy.
At the Honfleur Gallery, participants attended movement-based workshops and interactive sessions centered astrological energy, bellydancing and principles of attractions. They were surrounded by an exhibit from local artist Rebecca Miele called Urban Observations, focused on the city’s forgotten structures. The black bodies in the space seemed to dance between the planes of D.C. past and present gracefully.
In speaking to the why Black Love Experience resides in D.C Hobbs said, “The significance to D.C. is with the changing cultural landscape, it is the artists and creatives that hold the keys to maintaining and resurrecting what D.C. was and could be. We chose to keep our 5th year celebration in a community that predominantly looks like us.”
Outside of the organized and curated aspects of the event, it was beautiful to see so many black folks doing at once divergent and unifying things in one space for one night. I spotted local podcast “All the Fly Kids” in a live taping during the event, actress Amanda Seales of HBO hit Insecure soaking in the energy while notable local artists, activists and influencers heightened the vibrations of the event.
“The energy of the event is purposely ultra high,” Hobbs said. We shoot hard to overload the senses so that tomorrow and next days you can still feel it. We want to change the view from which we see and vibe with each other. That when you’re decompressing it still resonates in a positive way. It’s subliminal and empowering.”
I can attest that days after I am certainly still decompressing. If you missed all of the action or just want to a small dose to keep you going drop by Nubian Hueman location in SE or checkout their social media platforms for pictures and videos.