“BLACK! ASÉ” Evokes Black Joy and the Power to Make Things Happen

I just have to share a major feel-good story to juice you as you pack and make your way to That Thing in the Desert (or wherever you’re headed during Burn Week).

As some of you may know, Erin Douglas, founder of the Black Burner Project, received an Honorarium to build a major art installation depicting Black people at Burning Man experiencing BLACK JOY. It is called “BLACK! ASÉ” (ah-shay), which in Yoruba means “the power to make things happen through your actions and intentions.”

Early rendering of “BLACK! ASÉ” design, taped to warehouse wall during the build process (Image courtesy of the author; Designed by Francesca Xavier)

This will be a brain-breaking, trailblazing piece depicting BLACK JOY in a way you have never witnessed — if the reactions of everyone who has witnessed its build are any indication.

To learn more about Erin and how she has diligently been widening the path for people of color to come to Black Rock City, make sure to follow her Instagram account. Erin is single-handedly working to attract and then acculturate her followers (nearly 10,000 now), on all the questions a newbie Burner would have, including how to get a ticket, where to find a camp, what the Principles are, and if they will be welcome and safe in Black Rock City. 

With “BLACK! ASÉ,” Erin and her crew are not only sending a bold, not-to-be-missed message with the enormity of the 30’ tall photographs of Black Burners in the open playa, but the supporting structure itself is also designed to provide a welcoming space for people of color and their allies to gather for talks, teas, toasts, healing ceremonies and dances. The scaffolding upholding the big images will invite people to climb up inside, find a perch to hang out on, and create an overall environment that facilitates interactions of all sorts.

The importance of this project is obvious, but especially so when you witness how many legendary Burning Man artists and established theme camps have come out from all corners to support this Herculean effort. 

Michael Garlington, Petaluma local and Burning Man photographer and sculptor, with Erin Douglas, founder of Black Burner Project and co-designer of “BLACK! ASÉ,” 2022 (Photo courtesy of the author)

This weekend, while artists were bending metal and welding at Marco Cochrane’s warehouse in Petaluma, California, another local Burning Man artist Michael Garlington swung by and sat down to give Erin some pertinent advice. As one of the first artists to incorporate photography into a Black Rock City sculpture, Michael has been offering Erin guidance all along the way regarding lighting, decor, and when to shellac the whole thing to avoid incorporating the dust. Huge.

Marco and crew members Big Red and Jared have been diligently jumping between working on his massive piece, “GAIA,” and supporting “BLACK! ASÉ” volunteers.

Just now, David Best came through the studio to meet Erin and build lead Kyle Mimms, check out the massive pieces being welded together, and also offer his fatherly advice about what happens when you work on a giant installation that will clearly impact all who see it: “It’s gonna change you, in a good way,” David said to Erin as he left the building, his blue eyes twinkling.

It’s not only local artists who are coming forward. The leads of major theme camps and certain skilled individuals are also contributing in significant ways. Shout out to Square One Camp for helping to raise money, and for sending a huge check at a critical time. And props to House of Yes for hosting another event to raise awareness and money for the project. We just got confirmation that Robot Heart will roll up on the bus to DJ one of the events that will be held later in the week at the installation — no doubt this will bring the vibe up high. Airpusher Collective is also organizing an army of mutant vehicles built by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ creators for the opening ceremony of “BLACK! ASÉ,” which will happen Tuesday night, August 30.

Kyle Mimms, build lead for “BLACK! ASÉ,” welding the photograph of “Ken” to metal bars in Marco Cochrane’s giant art warehouse, 2022 (Photo courtesy of the author)

“BLACK! ASÉ” is still fundraising! The team needs to close the budget gap to the tune of about $50K. If you are reading this, please consider donating to their GoFundMe. “BLACK! ASÉ” is fiscally sponsored by IDEATE, a nonprofit organization, so every penny is tax deductible.

Both members of the We Are From Dust team, Yomi Ayeni and myself, have dedicated our time, money, and connections gained from burning for more than two decades to support “BLACK! ASÉ.” Our work really begins once this piece is on the playa, to find its second home (and hopefully third).

Any jaded-fuck attitudes I had in years past have been totally replaced by pure inspiration and unbridled excitement for Erin and how impactful this art piece will be. When you see it, I hope you’ll feel the same.

Cover image: Build Lead Kyle Mimms & Co-designer Erin Douglas are visited by David Best and Scott Prusso; Photobombed by Marco Cochrane and Katy Boynton, 2022 (Photo courtesy of the author)

About the author: Evil Pippi

Evil Pippi

Candace Locklear (aka Evil Pippi) helped form the Arts non-profit We Are From Dust (WAFD) with founder Yomi Ayeni, both former Media Mecca volunteers. WAFD is dedicating its time and resources to supporting BIPOC crews behind "Farmer the Rigger" and the Alebrijes art car by fundraising, volunteer coordination, promotion, and assisting with the build. Evil Pippi has been attending Burning Man on and off since 1996, and has remained deeply connected to the staff and various organizations within the Burning Man community. She has been known to perform as both a Santa and a Klown—in the dust and the default world.

6 Comments on ““BLACK! ASÉ” Evokes Black Joy and the Power to Make Things Happen

  • Rio says:

    Where will this amazing piece of art be located?

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    • Evil Pippi says:

      Hey there Rio- turns out that all big art that is being placed doesn’t get location coordinates until actually arriving on playa for Build Week and checking in at The Artery. This piece is ginormous so will be hard to miss. Come by!

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  • Neanderdoll says:

    Donated! Looking forward to seeing this beautiful artwork come to life on the playa!

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  • Matthew Gamble says:

    One of my standout experiences occurred at the “BLACK! ASÉ”. It was the last full day of Burning Man and I made my way to the temple that morning to bring some offerings to be burned. I witnessed many around me having emotional releases and I found myself wondering why it wasn’t happening for me. From there I hoped on my Onewheel and started to “surf the playa” when I came across the BLACK! ASÉ installation and found respite in the shade. As I sat I tuned into the audio that was playing of people of color being asked what their Burning Man experience was like. Somewhere along the line, I experienced a deep, cathartic cry out of the depths of my being. After some moments a person of color pulled up carrying a DSLR over her shoulder. I felt compelled to ask her two things: 1) “Can I give you a hug?”; and 2) “Can I take your picture?”, including that I had nothing to do with this installation. She said yes to the hug and then informed me that this was her installation. Alone, I shared time and space with Erin Douglas who then took a couple of selfies of the two of us using my phone. I thank you Erin for your dedication and intention. You and your work touched me deeply. Here’s to the continued healing and expansion with actions and intentions! With love and respect.

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    • Evil Pippi says:

      Matthew— thanks so much for coming back post-event and sharing that experience. How fortuitous that you had that moment with Erin the artist! So touching. I keep hearing of many such engaging experiences people had at Erin’s art piece. That was one of her goals and it totally worked. Appreciate you.

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