(Image: Wa Na Wari)
Wa Na Wari, a space for Black art, music, storytelling, and community events in the Central District was created to acknowledge the neighborhood’s history and culture as the area’s socioeconomic demographics shift.
“It’s a revolutionary act to have a party and to have Black people holding space to celebrate. While it is important, we see a lot of activism in the form of marches, protests, and demonstrations, but it’s also important to celebrate Black joy, creativity, and community,” said Rachel Kessler, one of Wa Na Wari’s executive council members with Inye Wokoma, Jill Freidberg, and Elisheba Johnson.
Wa Na Wari means “our home” in the Kalabari language of Southern Nigeria, where Wokoma’s father’s family is from. Wa Na Wari’s meaning references the past and future of the space, as prior to functioning as an art gallery and community venue, the home belonged to Wokoma’s grandmother since the early 1950s.
When the home on 24th was put on the market, the collective’s members decided the space was ideal for housing their “Living Room” project. According to Kessler, while writing a grant for creative capital for another project in March, the collective decided to instead apply for a grant to purchase Wokoma’s family home. With a mission of reclaiming Black spaces in the Central District, the Living Room project included archival photos between 1930-1990 of four pivotal intersections along 23rd, and narratives from community members discussing the evolution of the CD. The project’s combination of the photographs and stories explored re-establishing the relationship between the CD and its history; a notion the collective’s members recognized as the power of effective story-telling.
“Witnessing someone tell their story is a valuable act in storytelling. We realized the importance of having a space where information and culture can be passed on orally,” Kessler said. “Inye’s thought about it for years in various forms, and when the four of us came together to collaborate on the living room, we recognized we work well together. Inye started sharing this vision, and it made sense with the trajectory of all our respective work in art and activism.” Continue reading