Updated: Jan 6
Centered warmly in the middle of a bowl of stove-cooked oatmeal sits an off-white semi-hard square that is slowly losing its shape from the heat of the oats. Melting and stretching across the rocky edible platform like water over hills and valleys, taking on whatever shape was necessary to sit still long enough to be acknowledged, it awaits the caress of a spoon; the excitement from a salivating tongue and joyful tastebuds brought forth by the flavor it provides. A velvet-like addition to an open canvas seeking to be a delicious desire for a hungry soul. There was no need to stir; it was supposed to rest where it landed.
That’s how I was first introduced to it:
We exchanged names through a bowl of oatmeal prepared down in the Delta one summer. Up until then, my culinary experience peaked at margarine. Sticks of lard masqueraded themselves as butter in my bowls, restricting my knowledge to the greasy, yellow imposter that paired well with sugar and Cream of Wheat. Adjusting my taste to that of butter wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
While I eliminated margarine from my diet, I couldn’t help but notice how well it was represented in the world around me, figuratively speaking. Metaphorically positioning itself to be as smooth and as rich as butter yet failing to provide little more than a costumed attempt, I found myself needing to purge my life of situations where I felt marginalization was on the menu. No matter the person, place, or thing, if it wasn’t enhancing the flavor of what was being served, I would have to curb it. And with that said, I stopped going to First Fridays in Downtown Indianapolis.
Well . . .
because it was margarine.
Keep following. . .
Similar to when I thought Blue Bonnet was the crème de la crème, I started off in love with First Fridays. The galleries were filled with art, people, complimentary wine and finger food. For at least a year I was a regular attendee but as quickly as I discovered it, I lost my attraction. I didn’t need to explore the reason. It was simple. First Fridays in Indianapolis was heavily Caucasian inspired, ran, influenced, and attended. I felt out of place and not because I was there but because my people too often were not.
Although Black art could be found here and there, and especially in Fountain Square, after a year of abundant white-gazing, I had decided that there was never enough Black representation to satisfy my craving.
In essence, it was like being served oatmeal with no butter. Sure if I'm hungry enough I can eat it, but after the first few bites, the dullness kicks in and I don't want anymore. And I'm still not full.
If lucky, every third shop might feature an artist of color hovering near the back of the gallery, under the flickering light. Predominantly white and Eurocentric art would be spread across gallery walls like room temperature Country Crocket merging against pieces of rustic white, pan-wide bread. But what about the wheat? And where the hell is the butter?!!
When you are living your American experience as a Black person, where your history is constantly bleached, your life is always on the line, and being around more than 3 or 4 Black people in one public room is more of an anomaly than a norm, the margarine exposure whether literally or figuratively, gets nauseating real fast.
At this stage in our universal existence, I don’t see how this is even still possible except for ingrained racism. Black people ARE the butter. Our music(al influence) often permeates the backgrounds of these events, adding silky smooth grooves for guests to sway their bodies to. Furthermore, if you want to be totally honest about it, Black lives, Black art, and Black causes are fetishes for those white artists and curators whose main objective is to seek attention and gain notoriety in exchange for dressing up as an Allie.
*It’s giving polyunsaturated fat vibes*
The notion that just a couple of spoonfuls of Black art here and there would be enough to represent the African American artists that live AND thrive in Indianapolis (or from) is total bullshit. In comparison to the number of galleries that would be open throughout the downtown area, the amount of Black art on display should give them all pause for shame. But what do I know? I’m Black and biased. Nonetheless, that’s why I stopped going. I wasn’t identifying enough, if at all, with my artistic observations in those spaces over time. It’s no fault of or knock against the artists; I’m just a Black woman, living in a Black neighborhood where music is loud at night and drugs are sold in front of grandmothers sweeping porches in the day. All while the spirit of gentrification promises expensive, white, authoritative change. There are only so many faraway farmhouse pictures and nude Karen portraits that I can look at before I desire to see Black joy get more than one seat at a 30-person table. But it’s not job of the artists to paint, plan, or execute according to my personal needs; it’s up to me to find the type of art spaces that don't make me feel like a voyeuristic outsider.
Spaces that know even the best steel-cut oatmeal, cooked on a retro stove and served in a big bottom bowl is still nothing without the butter in the middle. Places where the sugar likes to make snow angels on top of the butter pool. Places that center the butter.
I met visionary Mali Simone back in 2008 and soon learned that she was a young, Black, professional who was steadily increasing her social worth and capital in all the right spaces. She moved with grace, humility, and a dimpled smile while navigating our shared world of creativity, and she was always quick to extend her platform to me and many others I knew.
She knew where the Butter was and was determined to keep it in the skillet.
Over ten years later, Mali’s maturation has continued to increase her influence on not only her two daughters but Black girls everywhere. My prayer is that she knows how incredibly vital she is to the City of Indianapolis and to Black people. Smooth shit. She is one of us: the creatives. The artists. The oft-forgotten, discarded or ignored Black artists. The Butter for the bread.
Mali and her partner in life and business, Alan Bacon, along with the team they’ve established (including Ben and Nigel), have birthed what should go up as one of Indianapolis’ best artistic assets, especially to the Black community. Their reputation and relationships have positioned them to create a brainchild that consistently delivers the Butter straight to the center of the oatmeal. Known as “GANGGANG”, the noteworthy title of their firm (and events) delivers exciting ambiguity through words commonly used in Black language to depict the arrival of greatness. Events such as “The Kickback”, “Melt @Butter”, and “SWISH” are just a few of the soul-food offerings they have sat on the table.
Their bio says they are “open to creative collaborations that build equity” and that’s exactly what they have been doing: building equity and collaborating. Kicking doors in and then stepping aside to hold them open. GANGGANG is the culture and it shows. Not only do they employ some Indy’s dopest artists and performers, but the way they cross-connect varying mediums allows artists to share their respective audiences with each other organically. All while centering Black art in spaces that grab attention. With their most recent undertaking, GANGGANG has me wondering if they too experienced oatmeal in a Mississippi kitchen at the home of one of their ‘greats’ who taught them that Butter is supposed to be front, centered, and allowed to melt all over the place. Because that's exactly what did when they brought us:
A Black Fine Arts Fair.
A Black art summit. The Black Everest of Indianapolis. Land O’Lakes.
Black reunion. Salted. Black Love. Black excellence. Eclectic. Black canvas. Black Sculpture. Black installation. Dance. Black joy. As smooth as the pudding the proof is in. The palpable audacity of GANGGANG to engineer such an exquisite experience for all will undoubtedly birth new ventures from those who looked up to this with inspired eyes. In the words of growth analyst and rapper, Fat Joe, “yesterday's price is not today's price!”
Butter was an artistic Black oasis of music, art, fellowship, and food with a vibe that could only be rivaled by a parkwide family reunion electric slide mob. Deckademics DJs gave what they were supposed to give, inspiring guests of all ages to stop whatever they were doing for a sway of the hips or a duo 2-step. What I witnessed was nothing short of phenomenal. The grand smiles that laid themselves upon all the shades of Black faces suggested heavy flows of dopamine. The hanging pieces sat on the walls the same way scriptures lay on Bible pages, ready to meet you where you are and speak to you. Several works were acquired from being shown at Butter, further proving there’s a desire and a market for Black art. This is what we’ve all wanted and needed to experience while being told that plain white bread should be enough.
Give US, the Butter.
Put it right in the center of my bowl of oatmeal! Sit it next to anything cooked by Chef Tia or Chef Oya, who’s tasty, buttery bites were escorted around by the wait staff that made sure all guests got a bit of everything. Rinse it down with Sip and Share wine, who also provided complimentary samples of their best. There’s much more to be said but it’s probably best I wrap this thing up and suggest you add them on IG so you can be first to know when Butter 2022 will be. This can’t be a one-time thing; Butter MUST return. I’m not even sure this is the type of review I was expecting to write, but in order to understand how this event made me and I’m sure many others feel, it had to be written as is. This isn’t a recollection of every artist or the hourly events that took place, but rather a summation of the importance of firms like GANGGANG, who continues to raise the bar and prove that their intention is to till the soil that seeds will turn harvest from. They have proven that they will stand by and stand up to assure Black voices are being amplified in ways that help them thrive long term.
When driving eastbound on I65-S, as you begin to curve around near Exit 112 towards Meridian Street, the disappearing highway barriers reveal the vibrant 3-D colors of the 90x40 foot Keepers of the Culture mural, created by artist Ashely Nora. The mural beckons your attention towards some of the prominent Black names and faces that have helped establish and continue to see to the growth of our Black arts scene (which is plentiful btw). Mariah Ivey, Vivica Fox, Mike Epps, Deborah Asante, Amos Brown, Ledeana Leaks, Maxie, and Rob Dixon are all well-established and heavily celebrated names within our community, each deserving of the colorful flowers that sit on the northwest side of the great Stutz building. The mural, whose unveiling ceremony was part of the official Butter kickoff, is an excellent representation of the importance of celebrating our past and present legends. If we can let them know it, people should be made aware of their positive impacts on society and our communities, and this mural did just that. Let them be reminded and recognized, in life and death. Let it be permanent.
One day, I suspect Mali and Alan will have murals of their own. Not only are they the founders of GANGGANG, they also represent Black Love Partnership.
It would be dope if it was of them sharing a bowl of oatmeal, with a stick of butter hanging off the side, steaming as it melts into the words: “A Whole Lotta Gang Shit.”
GANGGANG team, Alan, and my beloved sister Mali Simone,
On behalf of the Black arts community of Indianapolis,
We love you.