Alexis ‘Stix’ Brown creates with personas but always as herself. Her cover for LEO’s Black Future/Winter A&E issue, debuting on Wednesday, comes from her as Stix the Stitching Mime. LEO has spent time with Brown before during her “Interlocutor” residency at New Albany’s Carnegie Center in 2021. Since then, Brown has been creating and selling her artwork, sock monkeys, seed packets, and coloring pages. Much of it centered on her desire to address and deal with ways that humans can heal and be healed. LEO got a chance to speak with Brown via email about the idea of a Black future, opportunities and art. Here is Alexis ‘Stix’ Brown’s uncut interview.
LEO: When you think of a Black Future, what does that mean to you?
In my mind, Black future begins as an intimate existence of purposeful excellence, inevitably creating safe spaces for Black folks to indulge and thrive. Black future is the simultaneous union of personal growth and community cultivation. My art practice encourages its viewers to go deeper into self by demanding alignment in both private and public engagement. My work challenges its viewers to emerge with something tangible for our elders to be proud of, a safe space for our future generations to navigate confidently, and to compliment the unwavering spirit of our brave Ancestors.
Black future, to me, is the intentional cultivation of infinite safe spaces specifically for the practice of creativity. When I think of Black future I imagine infinite safe spaces to experience joy, creativity, personal and communal growth. The discussion of Black future must prioritize safe spaces for black individuals to learn, work, and to be heard. Black future must prioritize safe spaces for humans to grow and learn more about how to better serve self and how to better serve our community.
How are you considering that in your artworks?
Over the years I’ve struggled severely with what my creativity has been trying to communicate to me. In the past, all I seemed to face was sadness and complications. I often wondered, ‘where is the silver lining, where is joy?’ I have a really supportive circle of family and friends who always encourage my creativity, but one friend in particular would often encourage me to create just for fun.
The idea of fun has always eluded me, like ‘what is fun?,’ ‘what is joy?,’ ‘what is peace?’ But, I discovered creating just for the sake of creating silenced the outside world for a while and awarded me a peaceful environment where anything is possible.
I remember one particularly challenging season in my life, I was on a phone call with the same encouraging longtime friend. We’ve known each other since high school so I trust her judgment calls when I’m feeling down. I told her I wanted to stitch a sock monkey, but I simply couldn’t justify the amount of time I was spending to do it. At that time I was digging myself further into debt with every breath I took, and I felt like I needed to produce a windfall of cash every 15 minutes just to survive another hour. I couldn’t justify sitting and stitching at a time like this. The act felt out of alignment with the demands of survival.
My friend said to me, ‘just do it for yourself.’ Although that was a foreign thought, it resonated with my spirit, and I trusted her, so I made the sock monkey. After creating that monkey and giving it away to a most deserving, high spirited little boy, I was hooked. My sock monkey making practice began to feel more therapeutic and the act of selling or giving them away brought me very much joy. All I wanted was to recreate this newfound joy over and over. But we live in a world of high contrast right?
With much joy must in fact come much pain. Upon my transition from canvas to stitching, the global pandemic of 2020 was lurking around the corner. When Covid reared its ugly head, I took it as a personal challenge to stand in the high winds of uncertainty and peacefully demand the universe to grant me a safe space to create in peace, and that is exactly what I did. I fell so deeply in love with this activity I naturally began to protect the environment my sock monkey pals were being created in. I quickly realized, to give this project what it needs to thrive, I needed a safe space to create, to be still, to sit in peace. This is where the real inner work began and it was/is brutal. But i will say – if you do not humble yourself voluntarily, you will be humbled, fam.
I chose to go voluntarily and the glory of that brave decision presented me with the opportunity to meet myself, present in the moment, while offering a clear understanding of how to navigate exactly where I wished to land. Within my work I try to answer these questions, ‘how can I make my sock monkey practice in a safe space,’ and ‘what do I need to do to protect this space.’ What ended up happening is that I realized I had to learn what makes me feel safe. Then I had to teach myself that I am worthy of that safe space, and then I had to teach myself how to protect that safe space. In my Black future, I am a steward of the needle and thread, offering a safe space for inward exploration and contemplation. The result of this practice is a tangible offering of pride to our elders, a safe space for our younger generations to navigate confidently, and a practice to compliment the unwavering spirits of our brave ancestors.
What do you think is working, or not, in the current local art scene?
I have struggled for years to pinpoint what I think is working or not working in the current local art scene. It seems as though things are working and simultaneously not working.
I think the lack of safe spaces to cultivate and create is taking its toll. Artists are forced to migrate from venue to venue within the city to host events or afford a suitable studio workspace. I don’t feel that the local art scene is greeted with any intentional opportunities to grow roots. Now don’t get me wrong, there are root growing opportunities presented, but the ones that really pay out, look closely, there are many strings attached that oppress an artist’s true character. We become a mascot for whoever is funding our roots. We need more self-sustaining opportunities housed in safe spaces.
Regardless, we are relentless and we continue to create. Honorably quoting the late Martin Luther King Jr. ‘Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.’
I believe the local art scene will continue to quietly foster and control great creatives until we learn to organize, create, protect, and obtain safe spaces for ourselves.
You did a residency with Carnegie in New Albany, how has that helped your opportunities as an artist?
My residency with the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana was two-sided in equal parts.
On one hand my residency was exactly what I needed during that season in my life, and for that I will always be grateful. In all honesty, to this day, I am still reaping the benefits of the work I did and relationships I’ve fostered during that residency. On the other hand it was very evident to me that the Carnegie Center for Art and History is content with doing the bare minimum to stay publicly relevant with the black community.
If the Carnegie Center for Art and History were truly interested in investing in Black artists, I think they would find honor in revisiting their own living history. The permanent installation ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men & Women of the Underground Railroad’ is traumatic and uninspiring to say the least. This installation serves as a perfect example of Black folks not telling our own story.
This is a common theme I experienced during my residency in New Albany and often raised deep concerns. Even more so, the proud permanency of this installation speaks volumes about the arrogance of the community that it is safely nestled and protected in. Black history needs to be told, created, and installed by Black folks from the beginning to end. Until this happens, the community of New Albany will continue to foster a spirit of unity to the public, while privately non-Black folks continue to contribute to a story that they cannot possibly understand. If I were ever presented with the opportunity to work with this organization again I am sure that I would be forced to choose between the dollar amount they are offering and my self respect.
What projects are you looking forward to in the near future?
I plan to continue moving forward in my sock monkey-making practice and cultivating safe spaces. I am introducing a more theatrical element to my work as a mime. As the world continues to demand equality, and conversations of safe spaces continue to fall on deaf ears, I’ve found it only complimentary to stop talking, to allow my actions to speak where my words do not reach. Last year, I teamed up with two local artists to introduce my latest creative endeavor, the ‘Birth of a Mime.’ In this project, I am featured with two artists whose homes I have been respectfully invited into. I have found these artists to reflect the utmost honor, both in their public and private lives – unwavering service to their community – and they are always available for guidance and to offer a helping hand to any and everyone who might ask. In their presence everyone is equal and safe spaces are protected. They are my elders, and I’ve identified even more elders! I am honored to take a seat behind my elders, to allow them to speak for me where my words are still infantile. I allow them to mold me and impress upon me the importance of diversity, equality, creativity, and community. In the near future I plan to continue networking and cultivating safe spaces by silently collaborating with like minded artists. It is my purpose. Stix – The Stitching Mime : .