A Colorful state of Flow
By Juros Mufasa
Hello from the Southern Side
My life as a Flow Artist has taken me through some incredible and not so incredible moments. Over the course of learning how to manipulate objects proficiently I’ve met and lost friends along the way and I’ve reached the point where I’ve made peace with this. For me, the purpose of writing this article is to speak my truth as objectively as possible while hopefully helping some of you see my perspective of our community for better or worse.
Juros Mufasa is my chosen name and I am one of two children who grew up in a two-parent household in Miami Florida. My mom and sister are also from Miami and my dad is originally from Haiti, having flown to the U.S. when he was roughly eight or nine. Growing up my mom would tell me that I should never let anyone change who I was and to always stay true to myself. (If she only knew how FAR I would go to find out who I am!)
I’m sure there are those of you who remember how frustrating it is when your parents have the “We know what’s best for you” mentality. It’s especially frustrating growing up Black, knowing your parents don’t want you to be perceived as a threat while you’re out in public, at school or applying for jobs.
As I matured, the conversations with my parents about how I needed to behave and present myself in public were where we would most often disagree. I valued creative self-expression and they prioritized my safety (As good parents do). One of my biggest points of contention with my parents was the “successful black man” look. I grew up disliking the style, having wanted to experiment with my hair since childhood. The opportunity did arise to use temporary green hair spray during my high school’s robotics competitions.
Looking back, my parents had their work cut out for them raising my sister and I. My parents always wanted what was best for my sister and I growing up and it often yielded varied results. Many times throughout my education I was often one of the few if not the sole black boy in a class and as a result was tokenized. That has an effect on a kid growing up and how they self-identify. Especially when you consider growing up in Florida where the racism is backwards and over half the “Florida Man” stories you’ve likely heard about are not exaggerated. For better or worse, I would often escape within the inner realities of my imagination and keep to myself. While I had childhood friends growing up, we eventually fell out of touch.
Independence in a State of Flow
I think it’s safe to say I had a unique college experience. As far as I’m aware, my sister and I are second-generation college graduates. Both of our parents went to college and they both encouraged us to seek an education so we would have more opportunities. My sister and I both attended New College of Florida (NCF), where she became the youngest Residential Advisor in NCF history.
New College of Florida was a predominantly White “hippy” school in Sarasota Florida. I’ll be real, parties were thrown every Friday and Saturday, we did wacky and wild college games like Zombies and Assassins, and there were these huge campus-wide parties held three times a year (Halloween, Valentines, and Graduation) known as Palm Court Party. (I would equate it to being a baby regional Burn) This was an excellent time for many alumni to come back and interact and party with current students, many of whom were family. At the time I attended I was one of perhaps 20 students of Color. I tried to be more outgoing than I was at other points in my earlier life and for the most part, I was successful doing that and so much more.
My first time seeing flow arts and fully appreciating it was towards the end of my second year of college when some friends were spinning fire poi to celebrate their successfully defending their thesis. Knowing it was possible to have the sort of control and surrender to fire offered by flow arts was all I needed to know to go down this rabbit hole!
It was the start of the fall semester of my third year when I picked up my first prop, poi. I want to list and thank all who had a hand in the early days of my picking up poi. (Lydia and Tyler Neumann, Mark Pringle Lauren Ali, Ali Vargas, Katie Newton, Grayson Chester, Johnny Douglass, and Chai Singbe.) . All of them had a hand in shaping my flow journey and each and every one of them are part of why I am who I am today as far as being a flow artist is concerned. The friends who started me on my journey are some of the most real people I’ve known. It was through one of my alumni flow friends who was a staff spinner that I came to learn about regional Burns and subsequently more about the Burning Man community.
During my final year of college, I was a Political Science major. My original thesis was on the effects of social media on Presidential elections (looks knowingly at the reader for a moment). After difficulty getting access to the data I needed and also drawing on my own experiences of experiencing and seeing racism firsthand, I changed topics to addressing Overt and Covert racism in U.S. legislation, specifically with regards to the Florida “Stand Your Ground” Law.
In August of 2014, I attended my first flow arts retreat hosted by the DC Fire Troupe Dance Afire; the Appalachian Arsonist Barn Burn. I went with my friend Jill Barefoot where we focused on poi and connecting with the other attendees. By the end of the weekend, we used molotov’s to set a burn on fire! I would go on to attend Playa Del Fuego (or PDF as its fondly known as) a regional Delaware Burn where I met and connected with other Flow Artist and perform in the conclave with (how I’ve made many of my flow artist friends at burns over the years) while with Camp Contact. Shortly following that weekend I joined my first Fire Troupe ARC Flash where I would meet my Dark side Sith sister Kyle Rausmussen who I would get into all sorts of shenanigans.
After meeting more of the people who would come to be known as my Flowhana (Flow Family) I joined Revolutionary Motion: The DC Burning Man Conclave founded by Leslie Elmore, Caitlin Mantanle, and Ben Drexler. (Fun fact: I was briefly a Drex Factory Employe, I made then shipped contact poi and practice double staves). In the following year, I would go on to attend my first Major Flow Festival to have a major impact on the direction of my life; FLAME.
I first went to FLAME fest back in 2015. Over the course of that weekend, my view of Flow Arts was completely changed. In College I thought Palm Court Parties were the place to be, only to think Burns was the place to be; well I thought I finally found my people whose passion for Flow Arts rivaled my own. From the amazing workshops to the nightly fire circle, and the FlowCase it all lit a “flame” in me (Cue 90’s laugh track as I smile at the camera)
Over the course of living in DC, I contributed a significant portion of my time and energy to the Burner and Flow community however and whenever I could. For a great many of us who are in either or both, being part of these communities brings us with a sense of pride and purpose I have helped with infrastructure, building effigies, and volunteering for crucial roles within theme camps both on and off Playa. I have participated in and run conclaves in the past and have had to make tough decisions that helped make me who I am.
In many ways after my first FLAME I threw myself full force into the idea of what it meant for myself (and many of us) to be a Flow Artist while living the Burner Lifestyle I have been a festival attendee who would volunteer to fire safety and witness fire tag for the first time, then years later facilitating the game and sitting it out to be the valve so we can play safely. I’ve been an Organizer for Fahrenheit and Flashepoint as well as having been a featured instructor and performed in several showcases inspiring others in a similar manner to how I was inspired when I started down this path.
ColorFLOW and Humans of the Flow Arts
While there was a great amount of love for these amazing communities, a part of my brain couldn’t help but pick up on the lack of diversity within these communities where I was meant to feel that I could be myself. In truth, it felt like for every one or two people of Color in the Flow Arts Community it felt like there were another 20 who identify as white or benefit from some form of white privilege I remember at my first Flame back in 2015 Christian Medina, Abram Wells, Bryce Willard and myself the only Black men present that year. (attendance has since improved to my knowledge!) I wanted to do something to make it more diverse and inclusive.
That was a huge reason why I started ColorFLOW; to showcase and promote the diversity within our community and ways of being more inclusive. In the years that would follow I’ve facilitated some of those conversations both on social media my own Facebook wall and as Forum moderator for Fahrenheit. The core idea behind ColorFLOW (and it’s still there) is about showing Flow Arts to youth who might never have had a chance to be exposed to it due to a lack of opportunities available to them.
So a video was made. I asked as many prop based Facebook groups for video submissions with the focus being from Flow Artists of Color. I edited together all the submissions and posted far and wide thanking everyone who was involved. This eventually caught the eye of the Flow Arts Institute Media team and thus began the partnership between FAI and myself.
We first brought the Humans of Flow Arts series to FLAME 2015, and have since interviewed Flow Artists at MOPS, Flashepoint, Fahrenheit and more. I want to give a big shout out to Moxie Watts who for the longest time was the video editing half of our team in making it all happen!
As I attended more Flow festivals and expanded my network within the Flow Art community I went to regional burns with decreasing frequency though I would attend the occasional DC Burner Party and our local Sunset and Chill Fire Spin Jam Parties. The reasoning honestly comes down to money. It takes a certain level of privilege to be a Burner and take off from work to attend many of these events, especially over a three or four day weekend. Even with a comped ticket or getting a ride to events from friends it was always in some way a strain on the body as well as on limited resources.
A BitterSweet Desire
In truth my feelings about the Flow Arts community are complicated. On the one hand, I very much love what the community represents and what it has done for so many of us myself included. But like any community, there are elements that are toxic. Thankfully The community is proactive about handling it. I refer to the Consent Culture Initiative who I have had the privilege to work with at FAI Festivals. As a whole, I love my community.
But on the other hand in this age where so much is wrong in the world; in an age where we can more easily report hate and violence, I hear things. About people whose character may be called into question (someone who at one point in time I was excited to learn one-handed poi moves from). Or finding out that the person you met at the start of your flow journey is a predator and has since thankfully been banned from the community you love so dearly.
To bring it closer for myself, dealing with individuals wanting to talk smack about my father’s home country when they don’t know a thing about it. What this tells me on the matter of race is that as amazing as our community is there is still a level of awareness and sensitivity to be worked towards. I will say this as it pertains to Cis White Men in the community, perhaps continue to listen more and when your lady, POC, queer friends speak on their experience, it’s ok to just listen and not talk like you’re the expert. Also rising to the occasion to use your privilege for the good of others, especially in these troubling times. But I also want there to be proper spaces for men and male-bodied individuals to have the discussions needed to heal.
For me, as someone who has been in a multitude of roles within our community, I think of how much energy I invested doing things for people who I’ve come to realize do take for granted all of the hard work that goes into putting on these events. I’ve been in the role of organizer of a Flow Festival where my compensation is an early entry, prime camping spot selection comped ticket food and the satisfaction of creating something amazing with a badass team of unique individuals whom I am privileged to call my flowmies.
So tell Me what You want!?
What I want for the Flow Arts community is to be more diverse and more accessible to more people. I’ve been told that our community is diverse and accessible enough. My response is to remember what I said earlier about the privilege to be able to take time off for a festival much less buying a ticket as well as all the camping gear. For those who wonder why don’t festivals do more to promote? We do. I have been on the street team and part of what makes our social media campaigns successful is when you share the events to your own wall inviting your friends too.
Over the social media platform, there have been plenty of discussions on how we should do more to create safe spaces for People of Color similar to safe spaces for femme-identifying individuals. I believe as Flow Festivals attendance grows so too does the need for public forums outside of the internet where we don’t always communicate effectively as a group. But of course, I’m biased on that last one.