Helga Artist, performer, and host Helga Davis brings a soulful curiosity and love of people to the podcast Helga, where she talks about the intimate lives of creative people as they share the steps they've taken along their path. She draws listeners into these discussions with cultural change-makers, whether already famous or rising talents, whose sensibilities expand our imaginations as we explore what we think we know about each other. The new season of Helga is a co-production of WNYC Studios and the Brown Arts Institute at Brown University. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, On the Media, and Death, Sex & Money. The Brown Arts Institute at Brown University is a new university-wide research enterprise and catalyst for the arts at Brown that creates new work and supports, amplifies, and adds new dimensions to the creative practices of Brown's arts departments, faculty, students, and community.
Helga

Helga

From WNYC Radio

Artist, performer, and host Helga Davis brings a soulful curiosity and love of people to the podcast Helga, where she talks about the intimate lives of creative people as they share the steps they've taken along their path. She draws listeners into these discussions with cultural change-makers, whether already famous or rising talents, whose sensibilities expand our imaginations as we explore what we think we know about each other. The new season of Helga is a co-production of WNYC Studios and the Brown Arts Institute at Brown University. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, On the Media, and Death, Sex & Money. The Brown Arts Institute at Brown University is a new university-wide research enterprise and catalyst for the arts at Brown that creates new work and supports, amplifies, and adds new dimensions to the creative practices of Brown's arts departments, faculty, students, and community.

Most Recent Episodes

Writer Macarena Gómez-Barris on finding beauty in ambiguity

This [term] 'femme' becomes more possible to me as a figure for not just embodiment, but for thought, action, engagement, connection. Macarena Goméz-Barris is Professor and Chair of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, founder of the Global South Center at Pratt Institute, an organization which supports artists, activists, and scholars in their efforts to decolonialize local and global communities. In this episode, Goméz-Barris talks about how one can and must find beauty in the most ambiguous of places, how she uses the word "femme" to escape the embattled histories of the word "female," and how she has—and hasn't—moved on from a traumatic early swimming lesson with her father. References: Constantine Petrou Cavafy Waiting for the Barbarians Audre Lorde Uses of the Erotic, The Erotic is Power Saidiya Hartman Octavia E. Butler Parable of the Talents

Silhouettist Kara Walker on early fame and symbols of Black servitude

There are whole histories of African American artists wrestling with stereotypical depictions and minstrelsy - and it seemed worthy anyway to me as an artist to consider them as some kind of artwork. American painter and silhouettist Kara Walker rose to international acclaim at the age of 28 as one of the youngest-ever recipients of a MacArthur Genius grant. Appearing in exhibitions, museums, and public collections worldwide, Walker's work wrestles with the ongoing psychological injury caused by the legacy of slavery. In this episode, Walker shares how she navigates her own inner conflicts, how a curiosity for history led her to the silhouette, and what happens when making use of symbols of Black servitude brings one acclaim. References: Buster Browns RISD - Rhode Island School of Design My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love University of the Pacific Robert Wilson Einstein on the Beach Stanley Whitney Glen Ligon Kehinde Wiley

Silhouettist Kara Walker on early fame and symbols of Black servitude

Smithsonian director Kevin Young on the power of unexpected transformations

I like to say we're living in a precedent time, not an unprecedented one. How do we understand that? Being at the museum or writing histories both in poetry and in non-fiction are ways of trying to understand that. "Gatekeepers" hold an essential role in our culture as those in positions of power who determine what we see and hear — and therefore how we understand our world. The poet Kevin Young holds dual gatekeeping roles as both director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture as well as the poetry editor for The New Yorker magazine. In this episode, Young talks about how he holds these responsibilities and likens reading a poem to entering into a museum. He also shares his belief in the power of unexpected transformations, which songs have brought him comfort, and how it's always easiest to write about the place you've just left. References: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture Public Enemy Chuck D Parliament Funkadelic African American Vernacular English Sister Sonya Sanchez Langston Hughes Gwendolyn Brooks Harriet Tubman's shawl David Hammonds' African American Flag Willie Nelson Earth, Wind and Fire John Coltrane's Love Supreme I Want You - Marvin Gay Mary Lou Williams Jean-Michel Basquiat Make Good the Promises Ida B. Wells Book of Hours - Kevin Young Stones - Kevin Young

Smithsonian director Kevin Young on the power of unexpected transformations

Sociologist Tricia Rose on hip-hop as a global profit powerhouse

It's hard when you try to talk across racial groups about race ... I do believe that there's a better chance of them getting further if we can create spaces of both accountability and connection. Tricia Rose is a pioneering scholar in the field of hip-hop, Chancellor's Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, co-host with Cornel West of "The Tight Rope" podcast, and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. In this episode, Rose discusses how she balances her love of the early days of hip-hop with the global profit powerhouse it has become, the beauty of chaos, and how essential it is to build safe, stable communities at a time when everything is being done to isolate and separate. References: Fannie Lou Hamer Clarence Thomas Tightrope with Cornell West Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America

Visual artist Carrie Mae Weems on grace and inclusion

Within seriousness, there's little room for play, but within play there's tremendous room for seriousness. It's through the act of serious play that wonderful ideas are born. Carrie Mae Weems is one of today's most influential and generous contemporary American artists, as devoted to her own craft as she is to introducing other artists into the world. Her photography and diverse visual media has won her numerous awards including the Rome Prize, a MacArthur genius grant, and four honorary doctorates, and she was even named one of the 100 most influential women of all time by Ebony magazine. In this episode, Weems explores the struggles artists must maintain to find balance and reach an audience, how the field cannot advance without the deep and profound inclusion of Black artists, and what the concept of "grace" means to her and her mother. References: Dawoud Bey The Black Photographers Annual Joe Crawford Roy DeCarava Anthony Barboza Ming Smith Langston Hughes's 'Black Nativity' Cassandra Myth

Choreographer Bill T. Jones on the violence within seduction

I knew that there was a power I had when I stripped off my shirt and looked you in the eye as I moved my hips. But I also knew the other side of that attraction to me was the impulse to kill me. Legendary dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones has made a career of engaging his audience with brutal, unapologetic honesty. His seductive work has grappled with provocative political issues ranging from sexuality, race, and censorship to power and the AIDS epidemic — while also innovating in the expressive possibilities of movement itself. In this episode, Jones talks about what it meant to grow up as a "Black Yankee" in the 1950s and 1960s and as one of 12 children. He also reflects on the adjacency of violence to the power of seduction, and how, after decades as a performing artist, the body may retire but the mind never will. References: Alvin Ailey Percival Borde Pearl Primus Sammy Davis Jr. Bojangles Shirley Temple Sydney Poitier Charles Weideman Doris Humphrey Arnie Zane Lois Welk Rod Rogers Louise Roberts Arthur Aviles Marcel Proust Merce Cunningham George Balanchine Hannah Arendt Max Roach Freda Rosen

Jazz vocalist Somi on finding your voice

Once I could feel grounded in an East African context and value who I am in an American context - suddenly it was so apparent that music was where I was supposed to be. The dynamic, ascendant jazz singer Somi has been celebrated for her artistry as much as her activism. She became the first African woman ever nominated in any of the Grammy's Jazz categories last year, and she has performed at the United Nations' General Assembly by invitation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Somi describes herself as a "East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom" and yet hers is a story of survival, adversity, and transformation. In this episode, she discusses what happens when a teacher steals your joy, the power of a meditative practice that connects her to her ancestors, and how she is still finding her voice. References: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Miriam Makeba The Babiito and Bunyoro-Batooro people Curtis Institute of Music 'Dreaming Zenzile:' Somi Kakoma and Miriam Makeba Zap Mama

Musician Bartees Strange on indie music's overlooked audiences

I was making it for the people who feel like they don't really get a shot or are not seen, talked about, or cared about at all. Even with his surging popularity in indie and rock scenes, Bartees Strange strives to bring his music to unexpected audiences and to tease apart the racial boundaries between them. He reckons with the concept of what it means to write music for the kids who are not seen, heard, or cared about. In this episode, Stange talks about growing up on a military base in England, working in the labor and climate movements in D.C., and how seeing an appearance by TV on the Radio on the Late Show with David Letterman was the cheat code for writing his own music. References: NSYNC Backstreet Boys Cleopatra (Group) "Cleopatra Comin At Ya" 50 Cent Get Rich Or Die Tryin Linkin Park Tunde Adebimpe Parliament Sun Ra Brothers Johnson Beach House Slowdive "Super Spirit" by Junie Morrison and George Clinton Burial Gorgon City Courtney Barnett Phoebe Bridgers Lucy Dacus Car Seat Headrest The National Mahershala Ali Fugazi Beauty Pill Chuck Brown Moses Sumney Serpent with Feet Tasha Wow - L'Rain Dan Kleederman TK Johnson John Daise

Painter Glenn Ligon on the value of difference

Usually the things that are the farthest out — that look the least like art to me — are the things that become the most important. American painter Glenn Ligon is one of the most recognizable figures in the contemporary art scene. His distinctive, political work uses repetition and transformation to abstract the texts of 20th-century writers. In this episode, Ligon talks about childhood and what it means to have a parent who fiercely and playfully supports you. He also discusses the essential lesson that there's value in the things you do differently, and why he won't take an afternoon nap in his own studio. References: Courtney Bryan Pamela Z Samiya Bashir Thelma Golden Robert O'Meally Romare Beardon Toni Morrison Lorna Simpson Margaret Naumberg The Walden School Mike D - Beastie Boys Murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner Davóne Tines Chris Ofili Henry Threadgill Frédéric Bruly Bouabré "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" Saidiya Hartman Fred Moten Jason Moran

Painter Glenn Ligon on the value of difference

Poet Claudia Rankine on power and democracy

There are times in life when you need to be able to live in the vision, where you are making a leap of faith into something unknowable. Claudia Rankine is a professor of the Creative Writing Program at New York University, a recipient of fellowships from the MacArthur, Guggenheim, and National Endowment of the Arts, and one of the most celebrated writers of our time. In this episode, Rankine talks about who holds the power in our democracy and what it means to earn a mother's understanding of your work. She also reveals her superpower and the advice she would offer everyone who looks for fresh inspiration. References Jennifer Lewis August Gold Alex Poots The Shed "Ain't Nobody Got Time For That" "Animal Joy" by Nuar Alsadir Robert Wilson and Bernice Johnson Reagon's "The Temptation of St. Anthony"