Gina Loring on Her Allegiance to Art as Activism and Balancing Creativity w/Challenging Life Experiences
Scrolling through her Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds, you’ll see a woman who is never confined, who never conforms, and who never leaves home without her shine.
About five years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina Loring for the first time. Her performances on Def Poetry Jam were intriguing for their honesty and lack of pretense. With a host of awards, performances, and recordings to her name since then, Gina Loring is still that transparent, transformational kind of artist. She marries an impeccable work ethic with an unequivocal love for creating that which uplifts, tells the truth, and incites change.
Check out our latest conversation:
T&R: With recent strides being made for women and our voices being heard in entertainment, in politics, etc. where/from whom do you pull inspiration lately?
GL: I'm inspired by people like Lena Waithe, Ava Duvernay and Janelle Monae who are bringing authentic and empowered voices to the forefront. They are examples of fully self-expressed women excelling in their fields through genuine and purposeful artistry. I'm not surprised the floodgates have opened on the misogynistic behavior of so many men in positions of power because I truly believe what happens in the dark always comes to light. It was only a matter of time before people began to speak out, which in turn empowers others to do the same. Now it's about concrete shifts in the way our society operates to bring equality centerstage in a permanent way.
T&R: Many feel the need to adjust who they are and how they interact in order to stretch their reach to as great an audience as possible. Has that been true for you? How has social media influenced your artistry if at all?
GL: I don't think social media directly influences my artistry, but it certainly has an impact on exposure and accessibility. It has undoubtedly created a new breed of celebrity that didn't exist a few years ago. I'm still navigating how best to utilize it while maintaining a level of authenticity and individuality. A consistent and interactive presence on social media is definitely a great tool for artists, especially in terms of extending our reach and cross promoting with causes that align with the messages in our work. A great example is how Colin Kaepernick has connected with many artists worldwide through social media to align with his "Know Your Rights Camp" movement. That kind of global reach for the greater good of humanity is inspiring.
T&R: I remember your previous work being politically insightful, a call-to-action on many issues including women's rights and voter registration. Along your journey, has political activism been a foundational principle? How has the shift in the political landscape since President Obama moved you as a creative?
GL: Our current political landscape is a direct reflection of this country's moral compass and the historical context of its foundation. The profound detachment from humanity represented in the current administration is only shining a light on what has always been. In a way, such unthinkably incompetent and bigoted leadership may be the catalyst needed for extreme and effective change.
I've always had strong opinions and incorporated social commentary into my poetry and music, but now more than ever I think of myself as an activist using art as a platform for intention driven work. I think it's imperative for artists to own our role as cultural documentarians and follow in the footsteps of the generations before us who used their voices for larger social issues. There was a time when artistry was synonymous with activism. I wrote an article that unpacks this topic further. I can't speak for other artists, but I'm clear that when a poem or song comes through me, I am a vessel for a purpose that extends far beyond my own personal goals or gains. Whether or not I choose to seize the opportunity to be a conduit for communal healing is a personal choice.
T&R: Creative depression is something I've started to really dig into - researching & discussing with other creatives. As an writer and artist I find that every so often I'm internally questioning my ability and hitting a wall that I think I'll never be able to knock down. What has been your experience with creative depression and how do you move through it?
GL: Artists tend to be complex, intense and passionate, and I am no exception. I think about people like Frida Kahlo, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, all of whom had tragic, difficult lives, but were amazing human beings who left an impact on the planet. Struggle and turmoil beget complexities that sometimes are best expressed through art, and creates the space for profound ideas that often come from a place of pain. Depression has played a part in my journey, especially after losing both my father and my brother, but those internal challenges have also kept me on a trajectory of resiliency and tenacious focus. When I'm stuck in a cloud of sorrow or resignation, I remind myself that morning always comes, even after the darkest night, and often those are the moments that most powerfully propel me forward. At the risk of sounding egocentric, I don't ever doubt my ability; more often I doubt that the world will hold and receive the extent of what I am capable of offering.
T&R: Scrolling through your Facebook feed I see photos of you with hip hop pioneers like Pharoahe Monch, and in the studio singing/rhyming over J.Dilla beats and I enjoy & respect your respect for the essence of hip hop. What does hip hop mean to you? How has it impacted who've become and are evolving into?
GL: I naturally gravitated towards hip hop as a teenager because I recognized myself in emcees who spoke from a place of unapologetic truth. I connected with the lyricism and word play of collectives like the Native Tongues and the Soulquarians, and the passion and revolutionary mindset of artists like Tupac and Saul Williams. I've always been a b-girl at heart, and identified most with non-mainstream music.
In it's truest form, hip hop is an extension of the griots and storytellers of African and Native American traditions. From there, it's an extension of the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s and part of a continuum of outspoken and courageous artistry. As is true with all black music, hip hop has been appropriated and commercialized, but that's a whole other interview. For me, hip hop represents voices from the margins. It is smoke signals. It is genetic memory. It is communication. It is personal and universal issues acknowledged and given voice. That is what I strive to do as an artist.
T&R: The current state of hip hop is waxing more polarizing for hip hop fans. Some can't abide "mumble rap" others say they are embracing it the way previous generations have embraced new forms and styles of hip hop since the 70s. How has the evolution of hip hop influenced your art? How do you want to impact hip hop in 2018?
GL: Hip hop has changed over the years, but there will always be artists who continue on the trajectory of integrity and truth telling that stays in alignment with its original intention. Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Logic come to mind as torch carriers, but what's consistently missing is the presence of female voices. Balanced representation is imperative, but like society at large, hip hop has always been informed by a patriarchal structure. I'd like to add my voice to the conversation using strong writing and meaningful intention. Every human walking the earth came from a woman's womb. Harmony is only truly possible with balance, and I think now is the time for us to take the mic and claim our space in global movements, including hip hop. Peace in the world will only come when women are respected and honored.
T&R: With the widening circle of women speaking out and standing up for themselves and one another in entertainment, what is your greatest hope for the entertainment industry in the next 5 to 10 years?
GL: The entertainment industry is a microcosm of the macro world at large built from a blueprint of eurocentricity and patriarchy. The way people of color are portrayed in the media is indicative of the larger disease of white supremacy, and the avalanche of women speaking out about sexual violations and harassment in the industry is indicative of a larger societal mindset of misogyny. My prayer would be for the world at large to begin the communal healing needed around these issues. That would be reflected in the entertainment industry through balanced casting and accurate representation of voices and narratives. The overwhelming success of "Black Panther" is proof that black directors and black casts can not only crush at the box office, but inspire self love, self affirmation, and self empowerment.
T&R: Are there any upcoming Gina Loring projects that fans old and new should be looking out for? If so, where can they learn more/follow you? Where can we listen to your work?
GL: I will be releasing a free EP on SoundCloud this year. I'm excited to share how my sound has evolved to capture all of who I am: a poet, a singer, an activist, an emcee, an independent thinker. Most of the songs have a socially conscious theme, and come from a place of empowerment and authenticity. I think now is the time for thought provoking music that will inspire and move people in a transformative way.
What else is coming from Ms. Loring? New poetry and music, a Masterclass, and a premium online class. To stay connected with Gina and learn more about her upcoming art and classes, click here to sign up for updates.