Photo: Chuck Huru

A LETTER TO

THE ATLANTAN

ARTIST

BY

KHALFANI

LAWSON

What is “the fire next time” to the Phoenix? 

 

        I’ve left Atlanta, briefly, to examine my relationship with it in hopes that something new and fruitful comes of the pursuit. This effort makes itself known immediately with every meeting of a passerby in the streets of Göttingen or Berlin who breaks their rude stare long enough to inquire about my origins. I say - far before ever having to mention that I am American - that I am from Atlanta. This affords some level of cultural, social, and political currency in conversation. “I’ve been to that airport,” they say. “I’ve been to the land of Coca-Cola,” another shares. “Schröder” – Dennis, the German point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, they mean – “is there in Atlanta doing quite well” with great pride, further. A piecemeal effort to bridge the gap between nations (though, for the most part, appreciated).  

        I often wonder, though, what are we to make of the western mill that renders Schröder and I both less than western, yet more than African in our respective Western projects? My interlocutor could not possibly know of the glee with which I am met when it is revealed that I am Atlantan. That is, American, and not – insofar as a Black person from the United States can be – African. 

        Lest we veer too far from the matter at hand, what I mean to get at here is this: there is something special about the city of one hundred hills that is recognized and recognizable the world over. Whether you’re a Grady baby or have spent any number of formative years within Interstate 285, you depart both influencer and influenced. My effort, my vacation, renders itself inescapably vacuous because Atlanta neither can, nor will, leave you. It is a lens through which to examine the world. You become a lens through which to examine Atlanta. Here, in this place of interchanging inner and outer discovery we find the one charged to seeing to its maintenance: the Atlantan artist. 

    

I am thinking of Atlanta’s story. 

 

        A history that is indeed a storied one, crafted over several centuries and comprised in and of a plethora of influences. My choice of words here, storied, is precise and careful, in that I mean it both as a noun but, too, verb. Atlantan history is one of deconstruction and reconstruction where, the goal of the Atlantan historian, and perhaps the much broader American one, may be to allude to a history of peace and triumph over transgression. They who are dedicated to life as it could be, at the expense of such an allusion, know and say differently. It is a history of revelation brought forth to those who fear what might be revealed. This is where the Atlantan artist lives. 

        The Atlantan artist represents and lives within the cleansing fire from which the Phoenix – resurgens - draws its mythology. Where the politician may conjure the city as one “too busy to hate,” the Atlantan artist knows, and must make known, that the catalogue of anti-Black violence and oppression from which Atlanta was forged and functions within – yes, today - says otherwise. The very landscape being a calculated amalgamation of theory and practice laced with the ruins of intention. I offer an artistic corrective: 

 

“Atlanta, the city too busy to [recognize and articulate the] hate [from which she was, and is forged]”

 

      I speak of landscapes. Looking to Meechie and Toosie who, through dance (more times than not to Atlantan based trap music), give the landscape new meaning. A better researcher than I can speak the possibilities of revelation and resuscitation through dance into conversation with the music one dances to. However, the questions here may be: what is revealed through their dancing to trap music – an overt expression of Negritude and daily life on the underside of Atlantan intentions - in gentrified areas? The poor historian may see, merely, a neat construction, where on the other hand Meechie and Toosie know that every “hit,” every swaying of shoulders aligned perfectly with the aims of the lyricist and producer, dances anew the narrative of the ground it takes place upon. 

     What does Father, of Awful Records, reveal to us of Atlanta, and thus the world, in his pursuit of 100 million dollars before summer and an all-black Hummer? What are we to make of the benefit – the necessity – of codeswitching in order to survive an encounter with law enforcement and thus the prison industrial complex? Twelve stop me, hooked on phonics. High English, his refuge. What can we gather, here of the ability of the other(ed) to avoid discovery, as Atlanta often does at the expense its Black denizens? Father opens these discourses and makes them bare for examination. In an entertaining way, too. 

      Lucius LuXe’s TextsUNSENT series permeates the soul of the city, offering more towards the necessary project of re/creation: 

 

You’re more than just a memory

You’re more like everything…

and will forever be

 

        This, untitled insofar as I know it, was one of many love letters scattered across the city in a treasure hunt several years ago. It lay affixed on a banister on the Jackson Street bridge in Old Fourth Ward with Atlanta’s skyline resting picturesquely just before a warm, cloudy, dusk. I imagine Lu writing to the core of the city itself, unsure in its aims and strivings, seeking a calcified present. Lu, here as historian, reminds Atlanta that it need not be tied to its past merely in reverence – where reference suits it best. Lu, as poet, to the city’s insecurity and unsure fixations reminds it of its depth and breadth. Lu, here, as prophet, speaks of the days to come. “Forever, ever?” asks Andre Benjamin, on Atlanta’s behalf. “Forever,” writes Lu. 

     The question remains, then, did Atlanta receive the text message, or has it remained UNSENT? The words are nestled in a blue bubble where the read receipts are off – or it’s Atlanta owns an Android. We won’t know. I wonder, further, if Atlanta’s dusk in this piece ever reaches the dawn of a new morning. Lu, it appears, in an artistic risk, is counting on it. 

       So, I join him in his hope, which appears to be a hope for a new day of Atlantan life. A hope for a project that avoids the childlike tenacity of an underdeveloped theology, where there is resurrection without death, substantive development without total sacrifice, and tomorrow without a departure from today. Atlanta, in all her mythology and reality, is true to life in this way, and it is the chief responsibility of the art of the Atlantan to make this known and to preserve the process of developing this story. The world, through Atlantan art and the artist, depend on it. 

Photo: Chuck Huru

Khalfani A. Lawson is an Atlantan native. He is a son of Toni and Marc, who by the grace of God, met in Atlanta and decided to raise him and his brother there.

AUBURN AVENUE

"A penchant for the past with a promise for the present."

Auburn Avenue is an Atlanta-based, 

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the intellectual and creative voices 

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