I recently discovered ethnographic filmmaker and artist, Olivia Wyatt through one of my fave underground record labels, Sublime Frequencies. They specialize in releasing rare (and often vintage) recordings of music from around the world- tribal, folk and pop compilations, and radio collages. Think “Musical Brotherhoods of the Trans-Saharan Highway” or “Singapore A-Go-Go”. So I ordered Olivia’s beautiful little compilation book “Staring into the Sun” that includes a CD of Ethiopian tribal music, a collection of polaroids from her trip, and a film that is a collage of sights and sounds of the tribes she spent time with while in Ethiopia.
I was really curious about her process and what inspired her to embark on that journey. I decided to reach out to her about an interview and discovered she is a longtime resident of the Rockaways which was hit so very hard by Hurricane Sandy last week. She lost everything. This is an especially timely interview, because it reminds all of us that Rockaway, Queens is not only a home to locals that have spent their entire lives there, but also artists, young families, and New York’s surf culture.
You can read about Olivia’s inspiring project in Ethiopia below, but also hopefully will be inspired to donate time, money, or supplies to this devastated area. A good place to start would be The Red Cross or Waves for Water.
W + C: Where are you currently and where are you headed next?
OW: ”I just want to preface this whole thing by saying that everything I own was in Rockaway when the storm hit (Hurricane Sandy) and I have lost almost all of it, except for what was in the car with me at the time and my little 14 ft. sailboat (how did you survive Queequeg?.. I will never know!** ). I drove 21 straight hours to get back here to try and salvage things, but it seems as though there is nothing I can do at this point in time, and in an effort to generate a bit of income, I am continuing on with the current plans. If I had anything left to donate or to help others out, I would because there is so much loss in the area I have called home for 6 years, that it feels like a third world country.
I am currently on tour with both “Staring into the Sun” and “The Pierced Heart and the Machete” (new documentary on Haitian Vodou). I have been to Baltimore, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Louisville, Nashville, New Orleans, and I am on my way to Boston now. After tour, I am heading to La Paz, Mexico for a little bit and then I am going to the Mojave desert.”
** editor’s note: Queequeg is a character from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (I had to look it up too!)
W + C: What inspired your project “Staring into the Sun” and how did you go about planning the trip to Ethiopia?
OW: ”Ethiopia fascinates me because there are around 80 diverse ethnic groups and since the landscape is so harsh, many have maintained their traditions and are living as they have for thousands of years. So I decided to apply for a Fulbright to work on a project with the Dassanech tribe in Ethiopia. While I was applying, my boyfriend at the time, sent me a link to the Festival of a Thousand Stars, which showcases the music of each of the 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia. I said if I get the grant we gotta go to the festival together. I unfortunately, did not get the grant, but it was approaching the time of the festival, and I still wanted to go. So I started writing to companies and magazines to see if anyone was interested in some photos or footage. Sublime Frequencies got back to me and said it was up their alley and they would be interested in distributing, but of course they would need to see what I brought back. So I started emailing friends of friends who had been there, found a translator, raised money on Kickstarter and off I went by myself to Ethiopia. However, when I arrived, the festival was cancelled and I ended up hitchhiking my way across the country on the backs of Isuzu trucks and visiting as many tribes as I possibly could.
W + C: Did you have a traveling companion as you made your way around the country? What was it like being a woman documenting the tribes there? Do you have advice for other women/ people traveling in Africa?
OW: ”I had a translator for the North and another for the South. At moments it was frightening to be a woman traveling alone and at other times, I felt as though people were more curious about me and gentle with me. Women in the tribes would run up to me and touch my hair, skin, and my breasts just to see if it felt like theirs, then they would braid my hair like theirs, and dressing me in ways that they dress. I felt that the men had a respect for me as a foreign woman traveling solo, that I did not see them have with women from their own communities.
My advice for women traveling to Africa, would just be to stay open-minded and always be aware of your surroundings and remain alert.
Also as a side note, I was the most frightened as a woman, when I was riding in the front of the Isuzu truck and Yibltal (my translator) was in the back. We couldn’t communicate, and I was wedged in between two drunk men and a driver who was pretty high on chat. One of the men kept touching me. I would say “yellum” (no), but he would keep on doing it, and then the guy on the other side–the owner of the truck–would occasionally try to put his arm around me. These thoughts kept flashing through my head that they were going to lock the doors and have their way with me, so I made a scene and got the driver to stop the car, so I could communicate with Yibltal what was happening and have him move into the front and the man with roaming hands moved to the back.”
W + C: Do you consider yourself a documentarian/ cultural anthropologist/ photographer/ filmmaker/ artist? Or a mix? What is your background?
OW: ”I consider myself a mix. I have a background in photojournalism with a minor in history, but I was always too artsy for some of my teachers. When I graduated, I got a job creating multimedia for one of the biggest photographer-run photo agencies in the world, Magnum Photos. It was there that I started editing video, and decided to generate video myself.”
W + C: What equipment did you travel to Ethiopia with?
OW: ”I had a Sony HD camera that records still to mini-DV tape, a Sony TCD5M cassette tape recorder for audio, a Rode NT4 stereo Microphone, a Polaroid camera and a lot of film.”
W + C: What was the most surprising thing you learned there? What is something that Americans/ “Westerners” could learn from the tribes you spent time with or Ethiopian culture in general?
OW: “I have found that within tribal communities there is extensive knowledge of and a symbiotic relationship between the people and their surroundings. Whether it be with plants, animals, or the sea, there’s knowledge so vast and so rich, yet something that I personally am so disconnected from. Most people I know (including myself) would have to go to school for years–maybe even a lifetime–to learn the information indigenous peoples know almost innately. So I feel that this is something that we could all learn from and should respect. In general, I love how Ethiopians take time to share meals together, even with strangers, it is considered impolite to eat alone. I also like how much music and dance is incorporated into their lives, as though It is one of the main threads keeping communities alive.”
W + C: Tell me about the styles of the different tribes. Did anything stand out to you as particularly beautiful or thought provoking? Did you return with any new ideas about dress, costume, or the ceremony of dress?
OW: ”When it comes to the styles of the tribes, everything stood out to me as particularly beautiful and thought provoking! From the hair, to the jewelry, to the patterns on their clothes. What I loved the most and wish I had, are the bracelets that also served as an instrument when the Hamar women would rub their wrists together.”
W + C: I noticed some of the pics show women together dressed the same– are all the women of that tribe dressed that way or do groups within the tribe dress the same to show some sort of classification?
OW: ”Everyone in a community will have the same style of dress, but often times, best friends or siblings will make their dresses with the exact same fabric and it makes them appear as though they are twins or triplets.”
W + C: What role do music and dance play in these tribes?
OW: ”In the communities I visited in Ethiopia, I found that music was a way to connect with everyone, and everyone was involved in making it. They do it when they work, when they play, when they walk, when they drive, when there is a celebration… always. In general, I find that in our culture we are disconnected, and creating more and more things that further disconnect us, which is perhaps what draws me to tribal communities.”
W + C: What is your next project?
OW: ”Sea Gypsies”, exploring the culture of one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in Asia. Their life revolves entirely around water. They can swim deeper than any other human being, their eye lenses change shape and they can see further underwater than any other human being, and they predicted the tsunami before scientists. Unfortunately, a variety of sociopolitical groups are stripping them of their indigenous beliefs and my goal is to capture and preserve as many aspects of their culture as possible, before it is completely altered.
Woman Make Movies has just agreed to be my fiscal sponsor for Sea Gypsies, however I am still looking for grants and individual donors, who would of course receive a tax break. People can donate via the links above: (it is listed under Sea Gypsies).”
W + C: If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would you go and why?
OW: ”On a sailboat heading around the world and stopping wherever my heart desired, because I love both sailing and traveling.”
W + C: What do you always have in your bag when you travel/ can’t leave home without?
OW: ”Just the equipment really. I do always have a Polaroid camera, but actually I am not always inspired to use it.”
W + C: Who or what defines yr idea of true style?
OW: ”Mother Nature.”
W + C: Many thanks Olivia!
You can order “Staring into the Sun” at Sublime Frequencies or support Olivia’s current project at the “Sea Gypsies” link above.
I first learned about Captain Liz Clark in the awesome surf and skate documentary “Dear and Yonder” and I was super impressed by her story. Who was this young woman sailing the high seas on her own, in her 40 ft. sailboat “Swell”? And then I found out she’s an awesome surfer and environmentalist. And then I learned that she is an ambassador for the much-respected, eco-concious, outdoor outfitters Patagonia? Wow! Liz is exactly the kind of person that I want to showcase here at Wax + Cruz. She is traveling the world with style and grace, she is well-spoken and thoughtful, and she has a solid point of view. I was really excited that she was into doing the interview and I am really proud to share her words with you guys! Read on to hear about what she is up to…
W+C: Where are you right now and where are you headed next?
LC: I’m in the Marquesas Islands, heading towards Tahiti…
W+C: Is there a place that you keep returning to that really speaks to you and why?
LC: Generally, wild places speak to me most. I like to sail to remote places that are difficult to access because I love to be near nature in its purer state. These places energize and inspire me! For the moment, I’m enjoying seeking out spots like these around the South Pacific.
W+C: How did you get started sailing and what gave you the confidence to embark on a solo journey?
LC: I sailed as a kid–both on small sailing dinghies and with my family on our family sailboat. My dad was always a very patient and willing teacher, and from a very young age I decided I wanted to sail around the world. My parents’ guidance and support gave me the confidence to think it was possible. They would let me take out our sailboat with my friends when I was a teenager, and let me live on it in the Santa Barbara Harbor when I was finishing college. Then, serendipitously, a retired professor in my field of Environmental Studies, Dr. Arent ‘Barry’ Schulyer, became my original sponsor and mentor. Under his guidance, and with the help of many others in the community, I accumulated the skills and knowledge required to head out to sea as a captain. But even at the time of departure from California aboard Swell, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I just took things day by day, learning the practical stuff little by little, and eventually gaining confidence in my boat, my equipment, and myself. And now I’ve made it over 18,000 nautical miles around the Pacific!
W+C: How long have you been sailing solo and what do you love about sailing?
LC: I’ve been sailing solo with occasional guests since August 2007. The thing I love most about sailing is the freedom you feel when you’re out in the ocean with nothing else around as far as you can see. It’s almost like leaving the realm of human governance and entering a timeless space where I find clarity and feel peacefully removed from the rush of the modern world. Depending entirely on myself to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’, requires me to be self-sufficient, pro-active, resourceful, and poised—I feel alive out there. It’s rare in this day in age to be ‘out of bounds’ of conventional support/rescue entities. It’s helped me learn myself and better understand my connection to nature. Plus, traveling by the wind is clean, natural, and free!
W+C: What is your relationship to Swell, your sail boat?
LC: Swell and I are ocean-adventuring accomplices. We depend on each other; I need her to help me safely cross oceans and explore the world, and she needs my energy in maintenance and navigation to keep her ‘shiny side up’. I’ve literally restored, repaired, repainted, replaced, or reinvented almost every square inch of Swell since she came under my ownership in 2004–inside and out, mast to keel, bow to stern! I think material things with which we spend extraordinary amounts of time, especially those which we might depend on to keep us alive, seem to take on a character of their own. Or maybe it’s just fun to imagine? Either way, I love Swell. She has been the chariot to fulfilling my dreams, and provided me with the opportunity for so much learning, meeting countless great people, and experiencing the world in a very unique way. She sails like a dream and I think she’s always the prettiest boat in the bay.
W+C: Tell us what a day in the life of Liz Clark is like and what are your favorite parts about your current journey?
LC: Well, if I’m not at sea, I generally wake up around 6:30am. I do a little yoga or sitting meditation and drink a tea. If there is surf nearby, that’s always a priority. In the morning, I often eat oatmeal with Sol Raiz Maca powder, nuts & fruit, or homemade yogurt with honey. Around 11am, I usually retreat to the shade and do some writing or emails or fix something on Swell that needs repairing. Then when the sun gets lower, I do a full yoga routine or surf again or dive to check the anchor or go fishing. If I’m in a new place, I like to go for long walks with my camera. I love cooking, so most evenings I try to get creative and whip up something healthy and tasty for dinner. I travelled with a companion part of the year, so it was fun to cook for two. Something fun about the Marquesas is that here I can forage for a lot of my own food in the valleys. The people still live very much connected to nature, and there is lots of open land with wild fruit, edible roots, and local greens that can be harvested when you ask permission from the locals. It’s been really fun to try to live off mostly what I can get right from the surrounding environment.
W+C: What are the most difficult parts of your journey?
LC: Hands down, the hardest part is being away from my family and friends in California. Also, sailing requires lots of patience–waiting for the right weather and seasons to sail places. And sometimes I get tired of being in a confined space that’s moving around all the time and is constantly subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
W+C: How do you stay in contact with your family, friends, and what is happening with the rest of the world?
LC: I mostly use email and skype and the internet. Skype has really made it easier to go for long stretches away by being able to see people’s faces while we’re talking. But internet is limited and I often get behind on world events, but important news usually gets to me.
W+C: What do you do with your free time when you are not manning the boat?
LC: I surf, read, take photos, work on writing articles for my blog, do yoga, free-dive, hike, cook, play with local kids, and sit quietly in nature.
W+C: I know that environmental issues are very important to you and you are seeing first hand what is happening with man’s impact on the ocean. Can you talk to us a little about that?
LC: In the 6 years since leaving California, I’ve witnessed enormous amounts of plastic and refuse on beaches and in ocean currents, I’ve watched tuna seiners remove entire schools of tuna from the sea, I’ve noted widespread dying off of coral reefs, seen wildlife caught in discarded fishing line, and come to know the Puamoutu and Kiribati peoples—both will be entirely displaced by sea-level rise. All of these things sadden and frighten me. I can only say that humanity is in a critical time. We may still be able to turn some of the damage around, or we may do an unfathomable amount of irreversible damage to our planet. Waiting for an extreme crisis isn’t the best approach here. We need immediate local activism, government initiatives, and cooperation between humans that spans politics, science, borders, cultures, and material status. We need a new way of seeing and relating to nature, other humans, and the Earth as a whole. In my opinion, we have become estranged from our connection and relationship to the Earth and other sentient beings. Modern life makes it easy to forget that we depend on nature and each other everyday to support our lives–water comes from rivers not just from your faucet, plants grow in soil before ending up in your local market, and animals raised for food are beings with a genetic purpose and spirit much like our own.
A year or so into my voyage, I began pursuing my own truth and self-awareness. I started noticing my ego-driven reactions and looking at my own faults rather than critiquing others. By opening up to this new way of thinking, I started to see the struggles that humans face in daily life, and realize how very much we are all alike. Developing this compassion for other humans has made me see the world like a huge family, and this extends to animals and plants, too. We must respect Earth’s other beings and Nature’s extraordinary systems that provide us with everything we need to live. I think we as humans must address our personal issues before we can really find compassion for other beings and the planet. Once we dissolve our illusion of separation and let go of our egos, it’s easier to reflect on a larger scale, do things for the good of the ‘whole’, and work effectively as a collective. We need to value ecological wisdom and think about the planet that our children will inherit.
W+C: If you could “take a vacation” anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
LC: Maybe I’d go to see the Alaskan or Canadian wilderness and do some remote snowboarding too. I’ve always wanted to see the aurora borealis, catch salmon in a river, and drink maple syrup out of a maple tree.
W+C: If someone could magically airdrop anything from “back home” to you tomorrow what would it be?
LC: First I’d ask for my family. And if that wasn’t possible, I’d want a new music playlist from my friend Heather, just picked blueberries, wild arugula, and chocolate ice cream.
W+C: Since this is a “travel and style” blog I have to ask, do you think about your appearance and “style” at this point, or are you beyond that– meaning, is it all about functionality for you now?
LC: In general, when I’m out at sea or in remote areas, I don’t give much thought to my appearance. Most of the time I’m all about function—clothes that are comfortable and protect me from the elements. I often have so much other stuff to think about to keep Swell and I safe, that I don’t have the luxury to think about my ‘style’. And in poorer places, I prefer to wear simple old clothes that help me blend in rather than dress flashy and stand out. But when I go back to California, I admit to thinking about it more.
W+C: Clothing-wise, is there something every sailor should have?
LC: Every female sailor needs a headband to keep the hair out of their eyes, Patagonia’s new Sun Jacket and Patagonia’s NanoStorm jacket. The Sun Jacket is great for long sunny days on the water—it’s super light, cute, comfy and the hood protects my neck and ears. And the NanoStorm jacket is my favorite for night passages in all weather—the waterproof outer layer protects from sea spray or rain, and the inside is cozy, lightweight, windproof ‘Primaloft’ material. It’s like being wrapped in a cozy waterproof sleeping bag.
W+C: What do you always have in your bag/ can’t live without?
LC: I always have my Swiss army knife, pareo, Surf-Vival all-natural Chapstick, a length of thin rope, a camera, and my notebook and pen.
W+C: Who or what defines personal style for you (could be in a very broad sense)?
LC: I’ve never put much thought into it, but if I had to describe it I might say it’s somewhere near beachy, casual, simple but flattering, tomboy functionality but in a feminine way—a little spunk, denim cut-offs, loose tank tops, a onesy now and then, non-cumbersome jewelry, flip flops or tennies. To be in my wardrobe, I always say that I must be able to run away from danger and/or climb a tree wearing it.
W+C: Thanks Liz!
You can follow Liz’s journey on her blog www.swellvoyage.com.
Just before Christmas, I read about an art show in New York Magazine at CANADA Gallery by artist Katherine Bernhardt. I am so happy that we made the effort to catch it on it’s last day– otherwise, I might not have come across this amazing display of color and texture. The gallery set up a souk, an indoor market full of Magic Flying Carpets that Katherine imported from Morocco. Carpets covered every surface and we were invited to take off our shoes and explore a room full of incredible works of art.
Below Katherine tells us a little about her relationship to these inspiring pieces.
W+C: When did your relationship with Morocco start? And what about it resonated with you?
KB: I first went to Morocco when I was 15 years old. I went to the town of Tetouan in the north. The place totally blew my mind. The camels, the Arabic language, the colors, and souks, the medina, and being attacked by ants at night in the camp ground was an eye opener too. I didn’t get back for 20 years…when I did return, it was as awesome as I remembered.
W+C: How has it influenced your work as a painter?
KB: The textiles for one are amazing, the color combinations in the carpets, and the henna stained wool, the hand painted signage everywhere. The craftsmanship of everything around you there is highly skilled and detailed and amazing. The carpets are a major influence on my painting at the moment. I have been making painitings from their designs.
W+C: When you go to Morocco, where do you spend most of your time and what do you do?
KB: Most of the time we (my husband and baby) travel around, go to the small villages and look for carpets, or go to my husband’s village of Erfoud and hang out there at some awesome hotel with a pool.
W+C: Are there any must sees that you would recommend to travelers? Markets? Local dishes? Specific towns?
KB: You have to go to the old medina of Fez, and Chefchouen, the blue town; and to Merzouga the desert in the south. I would say go to to the villages in the Atlas Mountains, and then there is a town called Hdida which is my favorite. It looks like a mud village in the grand canyon. Its an amazing place.
W+C: Tell us a little about Magic Flying Carpets.
KB: “Magic Flying Carpets of The Berber Kingdom Of Morocco” is the company that I have started to import rugs here to the USA from Morocco. We buy direct from nomads, cave people, and small villages. We try and get the best carpets that we see. We travel all over Morocco to find awesome rugs.
W+C: Is your home full of Moroccan rugs? And tell us what you love about them.
KB: Yes my house is full… the entire living room is full of carpets to the ceiling. I love the texture, the warmth they bring, the colors, and the crazy patterns and symbols in them.
W+C: What do you look for when you are buying carpets? Quality, color, uniqueness?
KB: I look for totally unique works of art.
W+C: Do you have a favorite style of Moroccan rug?
KB: Right now I love the Boucherouite….rag rug style.
W+C: Who makes the rugs and what relationship do you have with them?
KB: Only women weave. I have met and am friends with several weavers there. They are artists.
W+C: What is your style when you travel in Morocco? Do you change your personal style to adapt to the culture?
KB: I dress up in the traditional costume. Its fun, because each region and town has its own costume, so I have many different looks. We also sit on the floor, and eat with our hands.
W+C: When you travel what can you not leave home with out? What are your must-haves?
KB: To Morocco, I would say take some medicine, because you are going to get sick. Besides that, just basic things tooth brush, soap… and a camera of course! I like to leave everything behind when I go, and forget about my life here. Forget about the phone calls, and the bills, and just be free for a while.
W+C: If you could go anywhere next week, where would you go and why?
KB: I’m dying to go to Mexico, I have only been to Mexico City, but would love to go and explore other areas. I want to go to Tulum, and Acalpulco, and other beautiful places.
W+C: Thanks Katherine!
If y’all read my Austin, Texas post, you will remember my excitement when I discovered the jewel that is JM Drygoods. As promised, here is some more information on how this little slice of heaven came to be. Michelle Teague, who owns the shop with her husband Jon, was kind enough to share her story– what inspired her to make the leap from New York City to the farthest reaches of West Texas and then back to Austin. Pretty inspiring!! And I LOVE the idea of the Super Michoacana Look…
W+C: What brought you from NYC to Marfa and then to Austin, TX?
JM: In 2005, Jon and I (then boyfriend, now husband) went on a roadtrip from New York to my home state of Texas. My pal Liz Lambert had been talking about Marfa forever and I still hadn’t been. I remember her describing West Texas, “Mish! it looks like the surface of the moon!”
W+C: What did/ do you envision for your brand/ store/ shop environment?