At work with: Maori Karmael Holmes, Seen

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Curator, filmmaker and writer Maori Karmael Holmes founded the BlackStar festival, celebrating film and visual culture created by black, brown and indigenous artists, in 2012. She serves as its artistic director and CEO, and, as editor, recently led the team that launched Seen, a biannual magazine aiming to broaden the range of coverage of and audience for Blackstar’s other projects (and featured here recently in our Coverage post).

Portrait above by Constance Mensh

Tell us about your typical Monday morning.
I’m based in Philadelphia at the moment, in Fishtown/East Kensington, and working out of my home. A typical Monday morning is me fighting to get out of bed, which of course requires coffee.


Photograph by Wale Oyejide

So my journey is the very short walk from my bedroom to the kitchen to prep coffee and breakfast. I usually watch one episode of a series or listen to a podcast (typically NY TimesThe Daily) while I eat and then I wash dishes and sit down at my desk to begin the long day of zoom meetings and conference calls.

I work from about 10am to 7pm and often have meetings each hour. Whenever I have a break in the day I take a walk around my neighborhood or hop in my car and run to my mailbox store to pick up inevitable packages (which cannot be trusted to be left on my doorstep).


Photograph by Wale Oyejide

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
I have skylights in my home and very few conventional windows. The two windows in my living room are fairly far from my desk but they do provide a visual respite and allow me to see when people approach my door! I look at my plants in the kitchen and dining area for a break from the computer screen and try to get up each hour to drink water or make small tidying projects in between calls.


My day is split between duties for all of the BlackStar programs, including Seen–which is run by our managing editor, Nehad Khader. I weigh in on design and contributors one or two times a week, but she really holds down the management of the publication. I also work as a producer and as a curator and have tasks/meeting related to those projects.

Are you feeling optimistic about 2021?
In some ways, yes. Following the lead of my friend adrienne maree brown, I’ve been thinking a lot about the good things in this pandemic moment. It has certainly been uncomfortable in innumerable ways, but there have also been some good developments.

I’m isolated from my mother which has not been great, but I am thankful she is healthy. I’m single, which I don’t love, and unable to host dinner parties, which I’m known for, or travel, and all the things no one else can do. But I’ve also had an opportunity to hunker down into some long-held projects and deepen many of my friendships–even at a distance–and that has been revelatory and great.

I’ve been on actual phone calls with friends for hours like I was in high school and started a film club with some friends and learned so much about them!

Which magazine do you first remember?
I think Essence is the first magazine I remember seeing. The covers were so dynamic and the content in the 1980s was groundbreaking. My mother is an avid reader and I remember being obsessed with that magazine as a very young girl.

She also subscribed to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair and I remember those pretty early. I was always reading things that I couldn’t quite comprehend. I also read Doonesbury cartoons in the LA Weekly (I think) and then on my own, around age 11/12, started subscribing to Vogue and Sassy. I also became obsessed with Interview around this time.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now? 
I still read Vogue and if I had to choose one magazine, it’d probably be it because there’s just enough politics, literature, health, and of course fashion in the pages. But I also maintain a subscription to The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetit and am so happy Wax Poetics is back.

Describe your magazine in three words.
Independent. Necessary. Futurist.

You’re a film director, festival organiser and writer, but this is the first magazine you’ve put together. What surprised you about the process?
I have had some experience as a journalist, early on in my career working at Washington City Paper, and later as a freelancer, and working on our catalogs at the festival and organizing catalogs through other jobs (ICA, Leeway Foundation), honestly much of the process was familiar to me.

That said, I underestimated what organizing the magazine would be for a tiny staff that was also organizing a festival and building a brand new organization at the same time. It took a lot out of us.

What can the magazine achieve that the film festival and your other work can’t?
The magazine allows us to talk about films and television series and exhibitions that aren’t necessarily a part of the festival and gives us an opportunity to dive deeply into some artists’ bodies of work as well as get more into their backgrounds. I especially love the artist-to-artist pairings. The magazine can also have a life of its own and reach audience who might never be interested in attending or participating in the festival. And the magazine is of course an archive.

What has been the response to the first issue of Seen?
The response has been wonderful. It has been really affirming that folks share photos on social media of themselves holding the magazine, reading it, and generally loving up on it :-)

What’s going to be the highlight of this coming week for you?
This week I’m taping another episode of a special variety show we’re producing called BlackStar Live and still filming sketches on the weekends, so my highlight will be sleeping in on Sunday night as Monday is a holiday!

Designer: Jelsen Lee Innocent

seen.blackstarfest.org


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