Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves: Black Is The Color Of The Dirt Where All Life Grows
Self-Portrait, Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves, 2016
I met Adjua in 2013 at a lakehouse in the Adirondacks some friends and I visit every Summer. She emerged from the five and a half hour car journey wearing all black despite the July weather, and radiated a kind of power from the scarf crowning her head like the hundreds of African women before her, down to the worn-through sneakers that had strolled New York City sidewalks for an arguably equal quantity of miles.
That Summer at the house, I was reading The Tree by Colin Tudge. I bought my copy at Muir Woods in California on the same trip I met my first Redwood tree. She was reading the very same book. When I was 7 years old, I remember seeing a picture in an Encyclopaedia Britannica of a car driving through the trunk of an American Redwood tree. I told her this story. She loved it and made sure I knew so completely. That same 7 year old wanted to share that she’d met a 1000 year old Baobab tree in Ghana twenty years later too and wasn't that just amazing? She smiled at me with her eyes. Adjua feels like a house you’ve known all your life. We read some pages from the book together on the floating dock in the sun, and laughed at how some passages had titles like “Why Be A Tree?”.
Untitled Still Life, @terrabot / Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves, 2016
It wasn’t until I spent more time with her that I discovered she was already well-acquainted with thoughts on nature. I discovered that she’d spent many of her adult artist years investigating postcolonial ethnobotany - a branch of ethnobotany that focuses on the universality of human relationships to plants. The purpose of this focus is to, as she describes, "decolonize the mind and behaviors of the human", so that our interactions with plants are returned to "existential interspecies ethics and mutual respect, rather than the plant:human:user:used relationship we generally operate in when interacting with flora and other marginalized bodies”. A host of plants adorn her own studio where she mostly writes the kind of poetry that will get you heftily reviewed by Hyperallergic. Each plant released of its dustier, colonized, Latin titles, and replaced with friendlier, familiar names like, “Booker T.” & “Shaquille”.
She’s is documenting the lives of her plants in FLORXABIOGRAPHY, an ongoing document she updates regularly.
1. Shaquille is a shamrock. Fluffy, cramped, yellowing for a reason I do not yet know. Purchased Saint Patrick’s Day eve from a clerk who teased me about the cost of its leafmade fortune. I am worried about Shaquille. (It is a worry that lately haunts my intimacies.) I worry that I love him the wrong way — that I am an ignorant and childish caretaker. That I have named him with a joke whose history wounds him where he can know it — that he can feel my lack like sunlight.
Her live poetry readings are equally compassionate. Continuing to utilize Google Docs as magical paper that can be viewed from any place in the world while she is performing, she often edits her poems in real time. Opting to publicly acknowledge her constant state of change both as both poet and person. Unapologetically revealing the humanity in everything that matters to her.
Adjua and I are most connected by our experiences of white supremacy, and the myriad cultures it has created for us to feel unnecessary in the world. In the rage behind the Black Lives Matter movement following the visible shootings of young black men, women and children across America, she chronicle her feelings in the piece Dear America, 2014. Her writing often speaks directly to that pain, but pushes through the narrative of unavoidable suffering to instead acknowledge an alternate narrative - the earthly and non-earthly powers of the black body, the nuanced black histories that precede it, and how every part of it relates to us all.
Black Botany by Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves, 2016
It only took a split moment to fall in love with Adjua. New York City is a busy place, but as I’ve aged, I’ve found that people who are dishonest about who they are are draining. Adjua is unafraid of her beauty or the inadequacies of who she is. She’s an artist and poet, but she is also a teacher. Watch her very carefully. A great deal of growth occurs in the dark.
Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves (New York City, 1980) is an artist chiefly concerned with postcolonial ethnobotany working in the mediums of scholarship, diorama, corporeal wisdom, archival gesture and language. Greaves has been published in About Place Journal, The Recluse, and The Poetry Project Newsletter.
She lives and works in New York City where she is young mother of The Florxal Review — a global journal of postcolonial ethnobotany foregrounding black femme plant life — and where she is completing work on The Bulletin of Wilderness and Academy: an introductory conclusion to unschoolMFA forthcoming from Organic Electric Industries.