“We are not a physical place, we are a movement.” 

Vaughn Kimmons, photo by Intisar Abioto, Feast of the Tide: a performance art short film screening, AfroVillage At Lloyd Center Mall, November 2023

Midnite Abioto offered me something to eat when I first entered the AfroVillage, but I knew very little about her then. From an invitation in an Instagram story, all I knew was a rough assembling of information: Vaughn Kimmons (of Portland-based music project Brown Calculus), short film, performance, and Lloyd Center Mall. After my grandmother and mother died of lung cancer, I’ve been interested in the tobacco plant and all the healing that it can offer beyond the disease with which it has become so identified. Thinking of a sacred ritual that a beloved Kiowa elder shared with me in the wake of grief, I often wonder What miraculous healings can take place spontaneously through our collective prayers? I had to know the stories of the women who made this powerful exhibition happen, who brought all these people together and fed everyone warm food and art as the days got darker. I felt very lucky when I ran into the painter Kyra Watkins: she introduced me to Midnite, curator of AfroVillage’s exhibition Healing Our Roots, who then connected me with AfroVillage’s Lead Visionary and Executive Director LaQuida Landford. 

Gilian Rappaport: What is your vision for Healing Our Roots

Midnite Seed Abioto: Healing Our Roots: Our Relationship to Tobacco, Hemp, Sugarcane, and Cotton is a multimedia exhibition in which we explore tobacco, hemp, sugarcane and cotton within our community. These crops formed the basis of the trade of brutal enslavement, trafficking, colonialization, and genocide. In this exhibit, we center the history of our communities within ecology from a full cultural spectrum. The artists were not chosen simply because they have specific plant representations in their art, instead, they were chosen because they present a broader perspective of the culture as a whole centered on ecology. The media historically leaves out BIPOC communities in the deeper conversations around ecology and environmental justice. We push back against that narrative for ourselves and the world as we explore our birth, our life, and our death in the relationship among all living organisms and the physical environment. This exhibit explores deeply our relationship with tobacco, hemp, cotton, and sugarcane beyond the ideologies of pain, suffering, and disease. 

YAWA, photo by Intisar Abioto, Feast of the Tide: a performance art short film screening, AfroVillage At Lloyd Center Mall, November 2023

Gilian Rappaport: What programming is upcoming? 

Midnite Seed Abioto: AfroVillage has convened an extraordinary group of artists, healers, herbalists, thinkers, musicians, and Afro-futurists to exhibit their arts and articulate their evolving thoughts throughout November and December. In December, our workshops will expand the relationship and reframe the narrative around tobacco, hemp, cotton, and sugarcane beyond that of death, mass incarceration, disease, and despair to explore the power and efficacy of true liberation through the lens of diasporic culture with reference to community, history, the spiritual world and the natural law which emanates from this evolution. Our programming will include deeply nourishing conversations, sound baths, plant meditation, movement, and music which centers us in the ecology of Afro-futurism. The diverse group of artists whose works will be on display includes Adriene Cruz, Bobby Fouther, Kathy Pennington, Latoya Lovely, Chris McMurry, Carolyn Anderson, Cole Reed, Chris Morillo, Nia Musiba, Kyra Watkins, Cole Reed, Alice Price, Medina Abioto, Intisar Abioto, Yawa Abioto, Sahara Defrees, Bridgette Hickey, Kalimah Abioto and our youngest artist, Ceriya Stewart, and myself.  

The event that you attended on Saturday, “Feast of the Tide,” was a performance art short film screening production by Vaughn Kemmons. They connected the work of their grandmother paving the pathway for women in the ministry—at a time when women were not allowed to stand in the pulpit—and the defining works of bell hooks. They also included several artists from the community as performers. It was a grand and glorious opportunity for AfroVillage PDX to give a sneak preview of the Healing Our Roots exhibit and engage the community. My family is a group of artists. I have five daughters and all of them are artists. One of my daughters, YAWA, performed on Saturday. My daughter Intisar Abioto curated Black Artists of Oregon, currently on view at the Portland Art Museum (through March 17, 2024). 

AfroVillage at Lloyd Center is a short-term pop-up, open through December 31st on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Current information is at @AfroVillagePDX and

Jacque Hammond, photo by Intisar Abioto, Feast of the Tide: a performance art short film screening, AfroVillage At Lloyd Center Mall, November 2023

Gilian Rappaport: Where is the funding coming from for this project? 

Laquida Landford: AfroVillage is funded by the Oregon Health Authority, from a commercial tobacco tax from the state which the fund is re-distributing back into the community. It’s operating as a smaller organizing group to provide mutual aid to the community. The project is also funded by RACC.

Healing Our Roots exhibition (detail), photo by Intisar Abioto, AfroVillage At Lloyd Center Mall, November 2023

Gilian Rappaport: What is the mission of AfroVillage? 

LaQuida Landford: We are not a physical place, we are a movement. We empower futures for black and brown and unrecognized communities. I’ve always been curious about how black and brown folks can have safe spaces, especially within pervasive gentrification.

Community and art installation, photo by Intisar Abioto, Feast of the Tide: a performance art short film screening, AfroVillage At Lloyd Center Mall, November 2023

Gilian Rappaport: What is your relationship with the Lloyd Center Mall? How did the AfroVillage end up there, and why does it feel like a good place for this work? 

LaQuida Landford: I worked in the mall in 2000. A lot closed, businesses didn’t succeed. Amy, the current acting manager, leased us the space amid a lot of changes happening in the next 12-18 months. It’s important that we have visibility in the next era of Lloyd Center to help mend the pervasive history of displacement and gentrification in Oregon, and especially in Northeast Portland. In the past, people who didn’t have larger businesses could not lease space to do something at Lloyd Center. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of reimagining the space. I would like that this exhibit and us holding space will allow us to be part of those conversations. 

Map of AfroVillage at Lloyd Center Mall (lot 982)

Midnite Seed Abioto is an emerging multimedia artist who spent 40 years practicing law in the Mississippi Delta. She sees her work as magically transformative with an arch towards justice and liberation. She has exhibited at Building 5 (Portland, OR) and the Reser Center for the Arts (Beaverton, OR), and performed at the ASHÉ Cultural Center (New Orleans, LA). Her curatorial process is centered on addressing environmental injustice through a cultural and spiritual lens. 

LaQuida – “Q” – Landford is Lead Visionary for the AfroVillage Movement. She is a community health worker, community activist and organizer, and a community navigator with roots in Los Angeles and Belize. She serves on the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities Rules Advisory Committee for the state of Oregon. She is the founder of the “Green In The Hood PDX“, an initiative based on flipping the historical stereotypes about BlPOC communities. LaQuida’s work focuses on housing, food and environmental injustice, policy advocacy and restorative healing.

Gilian Rappaport is an artist, naturalist, and designer working in social and visual forms. Their interdisciplinary practice is place-based and often in ecological contexts. | art projects: | design projects: | @gilnotjill    

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