02-19-2017  6:15 pm      •     

Renowned internationally for her provocative performance art and writings about race, damali ayo made a radical career change this month.
The author of "How to Rent a Negro," who was chronicled by The New York Times and National Public Radio as she traveled coast to coast panhandling for reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, is now a clothing designer.
Her new fashion line, Crow Clothing, is available exclusively on her website, www.crow-clothing.com.
What made ayo decide to switch from social justice activism to designing clothes?
"It's been brewing in me for a long time, because I saw a fundamental – almost aching – part of work about social justice was that everybody was competing with each other," she said.
"And with Crow Clothing, I can actually deliver something concrete to people."
In fact, ayo has loved sewing and creating clothes since childhood; she's also a passionate gardener and yoga enthusiast.
A graduate of Brown University with a Master's of Fine Arts from Portland State, ayo (who chooses not to capitalize her name) started out as a visual artist incorporating issues of race and racism nearly a decade ago, soon branching out into performance art, including an Internet "television show" called Dose of Reality.
Her gallery shows have included Yarn, Playback, and The Flesh Tone Series, in which ayo visited local paint stores and commissioned the counter employees to mix cans of paint matching the varied flesh tones of her body. The Flesh Tone Series became two gallery shows and a radio documentary aired on stations in Portland and New York City.
Perhaps her most controversial performance art project has been Panhandling for Reparations, in which ayo and dozens of other performers stood on sidewalks in 21 states and three countries, collected change from White people, offered them a written receipt, and then gave the money to the next Black passerby – also offering them a receipt. The project was a media sensation covered by more than 50 radio stations, television stations and newspapers around the world.
Ayo's new venture seems uniquely timed to take advantage of current trends in online technology – it's a green business, advocating sustainable technology and offering social networking around healthy food and lifestyles.
Where did such a complicated idea come from?
"When I did the 'Rent a Negro' website in 1993, that's where I learned about the potential of the 'Net," she said. "So many people found me there – that's where my agent found me, was on the web.
"It was the Net that created my national and international presence."
Ayo said she's experienced a steep learning curve in the use of computer and Internet technology in her work, but she insists she's loved the challenge.
"My friend that set up my first website, he made me sit next to him and made me learn," she said. So when ayo decided to build her next website, she saw it as an art form in itself.
"The Net teaches you about the Net," she said. "And you need to hold your own. I'm learning to admit that I'm wrong, but some people take advantage of that – 'you don't know this, you don't know anything' – and I have to say, 'no, it's just this one thing I don't know.'"
When she created Crow as an online store rather than a storefront, some people thought it was less than an accomplishment.
"Our first order came from Canada, so rather than just having a storefront here, we have a storefront that reaches people anywhere in the world," ayo said. "I realized you could have such a broad, global reach."
She said the key to using technology as a tool in your everyday career is seeing it as just that – a tool, not an obstacle.
"I see a lot of people who just give up, and to me that's just cutting yourself off," ayo said. "Just because you don't know how to write code, you can still write email, blogs and network with people.
"And I think we have to remind ourselves that we all have the potential to connect with each other. It's a lot like a toaster," ayo said. "In fact, I interact a lot better with the web than my toaster – it's all relative."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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