By Us For Us, or just BUFU, is a Brooklyn-based collective of queer femme artists navigating the often obscured discourse of Black and Asian solidarity. This month, the project’s four leaders — New York City students-turned-artists Jazmin Jones, Tsige Tafesse, Katherine Tom, and Sonia Choi — have transformed a neglected garage in Clinton Hill into a venue for POC artists and organizers. Through jam sessions, films about leaders like Yuri Kochiyama and Richard Aoki, and lectures on racial tensions and spirituality, BUFU hopes to find new ways for minorities come together. Other highlights in June — BUFU’s “month for Black and Asian Futurity” — include parties thrown by Princess Nokia and Bronx-based skater group Las Brujas, and a show by Asian art crew Yellow Jackets Collective. Here, Jazmin, Tsige, and Katherine discuss BUFU’s dedication to using the arts to connect communities.
What is BUFU and how did it come about?
Tsige: BUFU is a decentralized multimedia documentary project deconstructing the Black-Asian cultural and political relationship. At first, it was just a documentary, and now we’ve gotten a space so there are physical manifestations to that documentary conversation.
Katherine: Initially, the documentary came about as an extension of all of our artistic work, and also our political organizing work around Black and Asian solidarity, especially surrounding the Black Lives Matter protest. One of our founding members, Jiun Kwon, was very vocal about that. She passed away this past October really suddenly and we weren’t sure if we were going to continue the project, but we felt that there was a necessity for this conversation to take place because of so many things that we were witnessing — like people didn’t feel equipped to have the conversation.
Yellow Jackets Collective. Photography Yeelen Cohen.
Tsige: I was engaged in a lot resistance work for a long time, like a lot of Black Lives Matter activism. And I was personally really interested in seeing, how do we actually build POC solidarity? We’ve always had a really complicated history between Black and Asian culture in this country, and globally. Often times, our relationship is there but it’s awkward. We don’t share the same language – either literally don’t share the same language or don’t know how to begin to speak to each other. Even though Asian people and Black people have been racialized, they’ve been racialized in very different ways. So it’s hard to speak together about that and to build together.
Jazmin: With BUFU, we’re not really trying to say, “This is how we engage with Black and Asian solidarity.” What we’re trying to say is, “These are the experiences people are having, and it’s all valid.”
Tell me about what BUFU has lined up for June.
Tsige: We’re calling this month “By Us For Us: A Month of Black and Asian Futurity.” I think there’s only so far that a documentary can go; there’s only so far that reading a text can go. It’s a totally different experience to be in the room and interacting with this really nuanced conversation through different mediums.
How did you approach the programming?
Katherine: Each day of the week has a different theme. Sunday is BUFU Heals, so we have a capoeira and qigong meetup in the morning, we have a meditation and discussion, and then engaged yoga afterward.
Jazmin: For the first season of the documentary series, we recorded 50 interviews in more than five different languages and we have to figure out what to do next. So on Mondays we’re doing the transcription parties. These are going to be really fun because we are going to give tutorials on how professional transcription works in exchange for a little assistance understanding languages like Japanese and Korean and French.
Katherine: Tuesdays are BUFU Eats – discussions over dinner led by different community organizers. We’re partnering with some folks who’ll provide catering and also asking folks to bring potlucks. Wednesdays are going to be film screenings, BUFU Films.
Jazmin: And Thursdays are BUFU Sessions: political education reading groups, open studios for artist residencies, and open mics. Fridays will be workshops and panel discussions, BUFU Talks. And then Saturdays will be meetups and then performances – turn-ups.
Tsige: Most of our programming is in partnerships. There are a lot of people who are having this conversation.
Photography Benjamin Lundberg
Who are some of the partners?
Katherine: The Yuri and Malcolm Project. They just held a political letter writing workshop and they’ve been working on this mural to commemorate the relationship between Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X. The CAAAV — the Coalition of Asian Americans Against Violence. The Yellow Jackets Collective, a collective of queer femme Asian artists who are curating an art show that opens on the June 9. And the Active Archive of Afro-Asian Solidarity and Kinship, who are going to be holding down two of the BUFU Eats events.
Tsige: A lot of people have talked to us about how there aren’t spaces like this anymore, specifically for brown folks, to just organize. Outside of our programming, we’re also gifting the space to any POC queer people who want to do anything here. So Black Girl Magic is going to have a celebration here, Brujas are doing Queer Prom on June 18. We’re going to have artist residencies in the space. Skate ramps would be cool. People can tag up on these walls. It’s very much like: enter where you fit in. Do you want to have a conversation on spirituality? Come through. Do you want to have this conversation while collabing on some music during a jam night? Come through. If you just want to experience it, come party on Saturday. I think partying is also a great way of entering conversations