I have been blessed with the privilege of blackness and femaleness, and sometimes, queerness on Karaoke Thursdays, or even on a regular Monday when the Rainbow is Enuf. My neighbors-in-otherness, borrowing sass and sugar from next door to spice the “T” we can all serve on the regular. I am fiscally a member of the working poor and culturally a member of the shrinking middle class. A graduate of an Ivy League University, I am also a college dropout. Go figure.
But ultimately I am an artist whose personal contradictions are not simply confusing, but fodder for my in-and-out-of-studio practice. I use social media, the comment thread cacophony of ‘the internets’, google alerts, information doppelgangers, contact microphones, contact paper, oil pastels, corduroy crotch shots, chalk, ink, combs, plastic action figures, the mythologies of identity and blonde hair as material to create experiences. Someone once told me that I was “all sparkle and no substance”. I was so shocked at it’s timing that it took nearly two hours before the tears fell, but now I think it a fitting description. You can’t hold love in your hand either. And that’s what I’m really serving. All “T”, no shade.
Apparently, chicks from Gainesville got game, serious art game and Kenya (Robinson) is proof. Although originally from Germany, she claims Florida’s swamp as home, as the place that spawned her, as though creeping and crawling, springing from beneath and above like a bayou creature, a faerie draped in handwoven glittery garb, ready to spit venom, spit knowledge. She does just that, by the way. Herself, an amalgam of characters created from moments, hours, and years, spent considering gender, race, and consumerism. For it really does take a lifetime, and more, to tackle such subjects. Her Florida roots got her unearthing that which has been planted, that which has touched soil and grown; she challenges us to think, re-think, reprogram, reboot. Here lies the re-cultivation of everything you perceive art to be. You will be changed. You will be submerged. You will find yourself wading through marshland, hand out, searching for that microphone cord that is tied to Kenya (Robinson), aka “CHEEKY” LaSHAE, as if umbilical in nature. She was born for this, she was born of this; she wants to make you aware that you, too, are the product of your surroundings, that you are a product. Did you hear her? You are a product, dear reader, dear public. Let her many personas teach you a thing or two about the society in which you find yourself.
With The Inflatable Mattress and #WHITEMANINMYPOCKET, she explores and excavates social implications that lie behind privilege and marginalization. She pulls back the curtain. But in pulling back the curtain, she not only aims to reveal the puppet-master, she also becomes one. She paradigms her own personas in response to social constructs and in doing so addresses her experience as well as those of others. The experience is not singular, she seems to be chanting; and she draws us into a universe where layered questions and solutions speak to the same room.
What is social consciousness and how much does it affect mass consumption? What is mass consumption and what does it do to our social consciousness? The answers fall upon audiences from inside a box that stands before a microphone. Enter “CHEEKY” LaSHAE. This is Kenya’s (Robinson) super and alter ego, a group of critics, a line of ancestors, a cast of satirical individuals, and a sage –”CHEEKY” LaSHAE does it all, has been it all, and tells it all. As mentioned by Creative Capital, “To date CHEEKY LaSHAE is a heavy metal performer, self-help guru, sex worker, motivational speaker, author, fashion icon, educator, KJ, financial planner and interior designer.” One wonders how the artists feels to embody real life avatar status, then approach art from that state, then face ideas as a language slanging notion slayer.
“CHEEKY” makes and breaks boundaries. That’s her thing. And she’s good at it. It seems that under the guise of “CHEEKY” Kenya (Robinson) shifts energy; not just reinventing the wheel, but taking it apart, perhaps even destroying it, and not making a wheel, but any other technology that will get the job done instead. The goal is efficiency minus capitalism, the goal riding a fine line between awareness and humanism plus product. What is it to be human and what is it to live in a capitalist world? Beyond thinking and speaking outside, and from inside, the box, there are so many solutions. “CHEEKY” utters those solutions and if audiences are quick enough, extra present and awoke, they’ll hear them.
Project 497 or the John Henry and the Patchwork Petitionary is her opus, an accidental one, but one in which she takes immense pride. It’s a piece 12 years in the making.
Her primary focus, though, seems to fall on Americanness. What is it, what it means, how it transforms, how it stagnates, how it binds, how it betrays, how it produces. There are so many narratives. Through each performance and exhibition, she intends to unravel and then sew those narratives –each time becoming a version of self and imposing other identities. Curiouser and curiouser, we draw closer to the core, but the center of Kenya (Robinson) could be just as close as it is far away. It is in her rendition of life’s players and personas that she makes us face our own.
Her works have appeared in various venues such as, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn Academy of Music, RECESS Activities, New York at RUSH Arts Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, The Kitchen, and Creative Time. They leave a lasting impression on those who are fortunate enough to encounter her energies.
Kenya (Robinson) posted on her site, a quote turned sacred text, highlighting another social construct that has indelibly influenced her artistic experimentation:
“Our entire pattern of socio-sexual interaction is non-existent here. The Gethenians do not see one another as men or women. This is almost impossible for our imaginations to accept. After all, what is the first question we ask about a newborn baby?
Yet you cannot think of a Gethenian as “it.” They are not neuters. They are potentials; during each sexual cycle they may develop in either direction for the duration of that cycle. No physiological habit is established, and the mother of several children may be the father of several more.
There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protected/protective. One is respected and judged only as a human being. You cannot cast a Gethenian in the role of Man or Woman, while adopting towards “him” a corresponding role dependent on your expectations of the interactions between persons of the same or opposite sex. It is an appalling experience for a Teran…”
-from The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (or a Sacred Text of CHEEKY LaSHAE)
WORDS BY: Jacklyn Janeksela