omó pastor: A Layer of Gaze
omó pastor is a talented creator. A Queens, New York native, she has been writing and doing photography for some time now. Also, a business woman, the artist runs her own photography services company called Hevunlee Vizuns. Recently we spoke to the poet/artist about “Gaze” her debut book and what it means to explore and define black male masculinity through the eyes of a woman.
Flowered Concrete: Ms. omó pastor, a pleasure to have you here today discussing this outstanding body of work.
omó pastor: It is a pleasure being here. Thank you.
Flowered Concrete: We’ve known each other for a long time but I never knew you were writing poetry. When exactly did you start writing?
omó pastor: Well, I’ve always been writing. Literally. I remember always writing short stories in 2nd grade. I actually had a series going on. I recall one day in the bathroom at home, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I remember saying “a writer,” I had to be like 5 or 6 at the time.
Flowered Concrete: Did you see poetry and literature as something you thought about or appreciated in grade school?
omó pastor: Yeah. English was my favorite subject, and still is.
Flowered Concrete: Your debut book “Gaze” seems to be a document through portraits and poetry that highlights the lives of black men and their masculinity from what seems to be a woman’s perspective. Is that correct?
omó pastor: Yes, but through a Black woman’s perspective which is important to highlight.
Flowered Concrete: What was your inspiration behind the creation of this book? In other words, what motivated or inspired you to create an analysis upon the black man’s condition and self-identity in this country?
omó pastor: After studying bell hooks and her thoughts on gazing within Black people throughout the Diaspora, especially her work surrounding the oppositional gaze for Black women, I decided to use this and switch it in the way where solely Black people are both the subject and spectator. bell hooks mentions how the gaze has been a site of resistance for Black people and the power in the ‘gaze’, so I felt it was only right to play with this ideology and add my own twist. The simple fact there seems to be a disconnect between what Black men feel and how they express these said feelings. I’ve been capturing portraits of Black men from all over the world, and I started to think about how important this moment is for me as well as the person I’m capturing. I remember in 2017, I met this brother at a conference who I found so beautiful. Beautiful skin and aura. A street dude from Cincinnati, Ohio. I approached him to ask him if he would like to take pictures, and he was super hesitant. I then asked if he would rather take a walk and talk in which I planned to capture him in the middle of our discussion. He agreed, and we walked in this field as the Sun began to set. Oh, we were in Clinton, TN. The light was perfectly reflecting on his chocolate skin, so I had no choice but to capture these moments. However, as we were talking, he said something to me that really stuck with me, and sparked this project. He told me how all his life he felt like he ‘ain’t ever been seen before,’ and he was given the opportunity to ‘be seen’ through his academics that he made sure he took advantage of by landing a full scholarship to Ohio State University. Through his eyes, I was able to see the bittersweet journey of being unseen especially as a Black man in America. Everything clicked. I said to myself that I need to do a project that can replicate the stories and emotions of Black men through the mind of Black women. I wanted to explore what we, Black women, see in Black men – telling both the pains and joys of Black men.
Flowered Concrete: You’re also a photographer and a damn good one at that. Does photography make you think about how you write poems or is it the other way around?
omó pastor: well, it depends which one comes first and not every poem has a photograph with it, and vice versa.
Flowered Concrete: On the back of the book reads: “Peel back each layer of pain/stare at the wound and heal.” Was this a suggestion/advice for the black man or for the reader in general?
omó pastor: the reader in general. The project is not solely targeted towards Black men. It is for Black people in general with Black men as the subject and Black women as the writers.
Flowered Concrete: In the poem “repetition” you write “Generational curses go something like this…Boy sees man carry around his ego/ Strapped to his back/Boy sees man choose ego over love/Boy becomes man/Man carries ego strapped to his back/Man chooses ego over love/Man has boy”. Do you feel as if the ego of the black man hinders him from loving properly? Also, why call it repetition? Do you see this kind of behavior within males as cyclical?
omó pastor: Only if it is fragile. Ego is someone’s self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, well, according to Google. In my experience and research, a lot of Black men struggle with a fragile ego because they are unable to understand their emotions as well as other factors. I want to focus on emotions though. If you cannot understand your emotions that leads to your inability to articulate your emotions. Emotions are factors when it comes to love. If you cannot articulate efficiently then you are lacking a crucial key to a successful relationship with anyone in your life. But who wants to feel like they’re at fault in a situation especially if it may result to a ‘bruise’ in one’s ‘ego’? It then becomes a question of how can one escape this situation with their already injured ego intact because a bruised ego requires work to repair, and who has the time to repair the ego when I can easily pack up my bags and leave with my ego still in the shape it was when I met this individual who I said I loved? The ego of the black man has been ripped away from him the moment he was ripped away from Mother Africa to become a slave. This still is in the blood of the Black man throughout the Diaspora which leads to a lot of dysfunctional homes. It is a cycle. A repetition. How a son sees his father, or “older men”/ father figures, act, he, too, will emulate such unless taught to do different. This may even be unintentional, too, but because that young boy who is now a man was never taught to unlearn those behaviors, he is now stuck in his ways. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of brothers who are INTENTIONAL about healing/stopping this cycle, but there are still A LOT of brothers who are unaware of this thus leading to the continuation of this cycle for generations. These are symptoms of Post Traumatic Slave Disorder. Love cannot fully exist nor grow in a space of fragile egos. It cannot work, well, at least for me and other people I have spoken to. Love needs open lines of communication, transparency, accountability, freedom and more. Black men with weak egos cannot hold themselves accountable nor cannot exercise their truth, so how can one be in love fluidly if these factors do not exist?
Flowered Concrete: Okay, so walk me through the cover for a moment. We see a woman gazing at a man and transferring an energy of some kind to him through stars. What is the meaning behind this imagery and what were you trying to convey?
omó pastor: The idea for the cover is to paint the concept of higher elevation between both women and men together. The transfer of energy is important because that is what happens when you encounter any individual. My idea is to tell that story of seeking higher heights within individuals, so that the transfer of energy will promote growth rather than downfall. All of which starts in the mental.
Flowered Concrete: How long did it take to put this project together and why did you deem it to be necessary for you to publish at this moment in time?
omó pastor: Well, the idea came to me almost two years ago. The process started earlier this year, and I am just now putting it out in December, so I guess the whole year. I believe we are shifting into another Black Renaissance, and every artist must either be a healthy contribution to this shift, or the opposite. My work is to elevate my people at any time, period. This is necessary now as much as it would’ve been necessary in the 50’s.
Flowered Concrete: This book just doesn’t include your writing only, but that of Amanda Furdge, Bird Nefertiti and Imani Jones as well. Why did you choose them to share in your expression and ideology of black masculinity?
omó pastor: They’re dope women. I trust their voice, truth and experiences. I love their images in forms of words, their pictures they write and the water in their voices.
Flowered Concrete: In your poem “fear for black boys” you write, “my thoughts fill with his oceans + wonder what massacre he will experience that changes, steals away his innocence, which weapon of destruction will pierce through his chest, and who will cradle it?” The way you worded this was extremely profound. I think to pair a black boy’s identity with destruction in the form of a weapon but then asking who will cradle such a thing is genius. What made you come up with that beautiful juxtaposition?
omó pastor: Thank you!! Truthfully, it was a mixture of how society see black boys/men as menaces/threats and how I see them through my journey with them in this current life. My nephew is almost 10 months, and the fact that I have this fear for him and other young black boys worry me. That worry caused certain words to just flow onto the paper.
Flowered Concrete: Were there any other contributors to this project outside of your fellow women poets that made contributions?
omó pastor: Yes. The illustrator for the cover is a young brother named Philip from Ghana who resides in Bronx, NY. We met a year ago and have been creating together ever since. That’s the bro.
Flowered Concrete: What’s next on the horizons for you as an artist? How else do you plan on going about pushing this project in the long run?
omó pastor: Well, I have a short film titled Privilege that will be coming out next year as well as other projects that cannot be disclosed now. As for this book, I plan to take it to the schools to talk with students as well as hold an event next year spring for the book with an exhibition.
Flowered Concrete: For those who are interested, where can they pick up your project?
omó pastor: www.omopastor.com/shop
Flowered Concrete: omó pastor, I wish you the best of luck with this book and look forward to your next projects in the near future.
omó pastor: Thank you so much bro. I appreciate you.
omó pastor is a writer, photographer and filmmaker who uses these artistic mediums to heal, to empower and to express the reality of African people across the globe. Her main theme and concern is to bring back the true sense of pride in being African despite your geography. She uses art as a way to tell the world, especially African people, to be just that; African, fearlessly and pridefully. omó pastor is a young woman who has a call to heal the people of the African diaspora through art.
She loves black and brown faces, and plants.
Connect with her online:
Twitter & Instagram: @omopastorr
Kevin Anglade is the founder and publisher of Flowered Concrete. Founded in 2012, he plans to bridge the gap between the African-American communities throughout the nation with hopes of reinvigorating a passion for literature.