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Black Arts Matter Festival Highlights Vendors At Black-Owned Business Market

The Black Arts Matter (BAM) Festival, an interdisciplinary arts festival dedicated to building community around Black artistry, returned for a fourth year Nov. 8-12 on the UW-Madison campus. The BAM Festival included live music, visual art, a vendor market, and a poetry slam competition featuring slam champions from across the United States.

The BAM Festival first started in 2019 as a creative change project created and produced by Shasparay Irvin while a student at UW-Madison. The founders of this event organized “with a focus on performance art, and BAM provides a platform for Black artistry that grapples with a myriad of topics including but not limited to Blackness and intersections.”

“The Black Arts Matter Festival is both an entertainment and educational experience, providing shows that inspire, challenge and inform audiences on the so-called Black experience through art activism,” organizers state on their website page.

Morena Taylor-Benell, founder of Madre Yerba (Photo by Jnae Thompson)

With the same acronym as the Black Arts Movement of the late ’60s and ’70s, this festival also pays homage to the Black artists and institutions that developed from BIPOC communities. The event was sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and wrapped up on Nov. 12 with a Black-owned business market as well as a youth talent show titled “Young, Gifted, and Black” which is a reference to the late playwright Lorraine Hansberry and Nina Simone’s 1969 song of the same name.

Vendors were one of the highlights of the BAM Festival art market and many of them briefly spoke with Madison365 to talk about their businesses, hobbies, and what Black artistic expression means to them. 

Morena Taylor-Benell, founder of Madre Yerba, started her business in 2013 after experimenting with organic and natural ingredients. The name of her business ‘Madre Yerba” translates to Mother Herb, which is a symbol of collective action towards holistic and culturally specific healthcare and environmental impacts. 

Kameelah Harris, founder of AfricanRepublic (Photo by Jnae Thompson)

Another vendor, Kameelah Harris, founder of AfricanRepublic, moved to Madison from Chicago in 2014, and started making clay earrings during the pandemic. She expressed to Madison365 that she was fairly new to selling her work as it was mainly a hobby she enjoyed. Much of the objectives the organizers of this event had in mind to facilitate an environment for black artists like Harris to discover new ways to share and sustain her art. 

Lakisha Johnson, founder of Unique Hair Accessories (Photo by Jnae Thompson)

Savannah, @saviizcreatrix on Instagram, had a pop-up art showcase that displayed her own original works. This was her very first time selling her paintings, though she has been drawing and painting for many years.

Lakisha Johnson & her partner, Lonnell, the founders of Unique Hair Accessories (UHA) and More & Ancestral Tribe, had an array of traditionally African American hair care products and tools such as satin-lined bonnets & hair ties, wide tooth combs, oils, etc. They also sought to provide education about how to use these products, regardless of if you purchased an item from their booth or not. Their welcoming demeanor and willingness to turn the market space into an educational opportunity is another example of a larger cultural tradition that the BAM Festival organizers promoted. 

The BAM Festival market was the last event of a 4-day celebration of Black art. Art showcases such as an art exhibit by illustrator Mawhyah (presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee), a headliner concert by R&B band Tank and the Bangas as well as poetry performed by Ayanna Florence, Blacqwildflowr, Ebony Stewart, Ephraim Nehemiah, Jahman Hill, LeChell “The Shootah,” Maya Write, Tony McPherson, Mecca ‘Meccamorphosis’ Verdell, Nathan Wallace, RADI, and Steven Mills. Much like the celebration of small minority-owned businesses during the market, these performance & visual artists are paying tribute to a long legacy of rich cultural African American heritage. 

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