In an unfurnished New York City apartment with bare white walls, Wendell Headley paces the room with an intense energy bordering on unease. He’s indoors—at what will soon be the home of an art installation featuring some of his avant-garde fashion designs—but he longs to be outside in the park across the street. It’s by traversing the city’s public spaces in his sartorial splendor (most notably throughout Harlem) that Headley has become a local legend. He’s been content with existing on the periphery for years but the release of a new book, ‘Where’s Wendell?’ and collaborative installation ‘New York, Naturally’ may be the beginning of bringing his name to a national stage.
Details on Headley’s background are scarce and in an interview he was not forthcoming about the past. The only information provided is that he grew up in and around New York, was a painter in the 1980s mentioned in art periodicals with the likes of Keith Haring and started sewing to overcome substance abuse issues. The result of the latter has been the creation of colorful flamboyant designs where he repurposes materials, sometimes tearing apart and reworking one completed design into something entirely new. It gives the garments an ephemeral quality that is not exactly in line with the fashion world’s business model. But Headley could care less. He creates not to sell but to promote a spirit of creativity and childhood innocence, even if he knows many may never understand.
“I am the working class heroes hero,” he said. “I am saving middleclass and rich people from their own self-destruction. What makes my clothes a fantasy is nobody could wear them anywhere ‘cause they are outside of people’s causal imagination. My clothes are about childhood playtime and people grow out of that style altogether.”
‘Where’s Wendell?’ documents Headley’s style and outlook on life through photographs taken by Felicia M. Gordon, founder of the art collective Sugar Hill Culture Club (SHCC). The limited edition book will be released July 2 with a private celebration as part of the exhibition ‘If You Build It’ presented by No Longer Empty in partnership with Broadway Housing Communities. [Full disclosure: writer is creative director of the project’s programming]. In addition Headley plans to lead interactive art and fashion workshops as part of ‘New York Naturally’, which also features additional work by Gordon and Imani Razat.
It’s being dubbed the “Hulu” of Africa to United States viewers but the new platform, Africa Magic GO, has a little more on its agenda than just offering access to the latest in African films and television series. The site, which allows U.S. viewers to stream original content from the continent online for only $8 a month, also hopes to foster a greater cross-cultural exchange.
“Africa is a diverse continent and people living in the U.S. will now have access to stories told from an African perspective. This is an opportunity for Americans in general to see that our cultures enjoy great overlaps,” said Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu, regional director at Africa Magic.
Highlights include Nigeria’s popular soap opera, ‘Tinsel’ that focuses on the scandal and romance of the film production world. ‘53 Extra’ is a weekly West African entertainment magazine show. And ‘Blue Flames,’ is the tale of three families vying for wealth and fulfillment.
Mba-Uzoukwu believes that content focused on themes with universal appeal will demonstrate that Africa Magic GO’s programming is not just for a “niche” market.
“African content tells life stories and the underlying themes of love, deception, betrayal, jealousy and so on resonate with people from all walks of life. There is growing interest in stories from Africa told from the African perspective.”
The relationship between poetry and visual art may not be immediate for some but for Danny Simmons the two are inextricably linked thanks to his childhood.
“My father was an amazing influence with his poetry. Everyday he’d recite poetry around the house and ask us what we felt about it. And my mother would be painting,” Simmons recalled. “For neither of them was that their job but these were their passions. It steeped in and was something I picked up and I am now a painter and writer.”
He’s taken that inspiration and applied it to is new book, ‘The Brown Beatnik Tomes’ which features his poems juxtaposed with his neo-African Abstract Expressionist paintings. The effect is a conversation between two artistic disciplines that broadens the scope and impact of each.
In looking back on his career, Simmons admitted to placing his poetry career on-hold for several years. While helping spoken word poetry reach a new mainstream audience through his work in co-creating the hit television series ‘Def Poetry Jam’ he decided it’d be a conflict of interest to simultaneously pursue a career as a poet. But now he is catching up on that time that has gone by. And for him there is no better time than the present to be a poet.
“People are seeking something more cerebral. As rap music gets more ratchet people look for meaning in the words they listen to,” he said. “The world has become a little more intense and people need ways to vent and talk about what is going on.”
The weekly column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.