ZEBRA KATZ and NJENA REDDD FOXXX
Text by Simo Vassinen
One day you plan catering events at an office in New Jersey. A while later, they salute you as a king of darkness with your voice echoing through flames on a runway with the models trying not to miss any of the beats that you recorded in your bedroom five years earlier. But do you know what you want? Do you know where you’re going to? No.
Making art, for some, is a correspondence to understand the surrounding world, and to understand one’s inner world. Sometimes to teach the world, but always be taught by it. The letters are exchanged back and forth to polish the corners, to find new meanings and as a zenith, to morph into a higher state. In the ultimate phase, the artist asks no more and expects no answers. And that is when we listen the most closely.
Ojay Morgan was the one to perform at a queer black performance festival in athletic shorts and tube socks, or plan a video study on the southern debutante ball culture mixed with the house ballroom scene of 1990’s New York City. But the beats and rhymes were made by someone called Zebra Katz. “I then had the confidence to say that I am that bitch”, he says on the telephone one night.
Art as a life mission does not follow formats because it is about something bigger. Writing or music or sculptures or staging a performance do not differ from each other because they are merely the surface. Like a truffle that grows towards the ground and on the surface only gives out a strong odor. Scents will float in the air and we will be drugged by them, but it is rare to find the truffle – or appreciate it when found.
“Acting will always be a part of me, and I might do a little dance here and there, or pick up an instrument. Everything I learned is coming full circle in the music, but I don’t follow a plan”, says Ojay.
To some, he comes across a cryptic message, but who isn’t cryptic?
The most obvious of references changes meaning and form depending on time and space.
“People will see the Illuminati in a pentagram and they will see Paris is Burning in the flames of a fashion show. But I’m not asking for opinions, I’m just putting mine out there. At the end of the day, I’ll just let go and do it again. Sometimes I need a burst, like five espressos and a telephone. I manage this all by myself. There’s not always an intention or a motive.
It’s a struggle, for an artist to be independent, to stand on one’s own feet.”
In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the highest step in our personal pyramid is that of self-actualization, referring to fulfilling one’s potential. “What a man can be, he must be”, said Maslow. Njena Jarvis became Reddd Foxxx when she first got on stage a year ago. Before realizing she could rap, Njena would make sculptures or paint. “Something has to step forward, and it’s either you or the character”, she thinks. A zebra or a fox.
Njena and Ojay have performed side by side for the past year, but both realize that to actualize themselves, they must commit to building their own inner worlds and offer flashes of it on the outside. Sometimes together, but more by coincidence than need.
“My head is spinning”, says Njena. “You just have to live and absorb and go through things. And find new things to take you away from what you were thinking about yesterday. The things I want constantly change, but I don’t even know how you can do anything without constant change because the way I rationalize something one day is not the same as before. I’m not making it so rigid for myself, like starting with a question to answer. Life is the question and I’m just highlighting things that happen along the way.” An additional suggestion to Maslow’s pyramid later challenged self-actualization as the ultimate goal. An even deeper level is reached through self-transcendence. It means the broadening of one’s ideal self in order to experience an intimacy far beyond all prior behavior. At that point a zebra and a fox ask no more, seek no more and try no more. They just exist.