Yves B. Golden (photo by Kourtney Smith)

Yves B. Golden’s mantra is “all good things come to me.” She says the phrase often — in her head, in conversation — and sees it as a kind of daily magic. When we spoke via Zoom last month, she described from her Los Angeles backyard that the phrase’s power accumulates in repetition, reminding her that “the universe is conspiring for good.” This is something that both grounds and drives her. Mantra has long been a part of Golden’s life and practice, which always centers care to envision an equitable world. Golden is an artist and organizer working, often collaboratively, across poetry and performance. In May, she co-founded the Herbal Mutual Aid Network (HMAN) in partnership with New York-based herbalist Remy Maelen of Goodwitch.

Herbal Mutual Aid Network (image courtesy Yves B. Golden)

Golden and Maelen created HMAN as a direct response to the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, in order to provide care for “people seeking support due to the ongoing crisis of racial violence and injustice.” In the early weeks of summer, the pair came together to provide Black organizers and individuals with protest safety kits (masks, gloves, bandages, ear and eye protection, water, granola bars, cards outlining rights, and phone numbers for legal assistance in multiple languages) and milky oats tincture (which has a soothing effect on the nervous system). The network has continued to grow, distributing care boxes to over 600 individuals and reaching many more through bulk donations to frontline organizers and Black-led community groups. They have also orchestrated direct actions, providing toiletries and supplements to houseless women in Los Angeles and New York.

Golden described the visceral rage and panic in response to President Trump’s May 29 tweet “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” as a galvanizing force behind HMAN. She remembered thinking, “I needed something tangible to change. Otherwise, I was like, I don’t know how far I can make it into this episode, and I don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

Turning to principles of Mutual Aid was instinctive for Golden, whose upbringing between tight-knit Black communities in Rochester, New York and Trinidad always operated as such. She’s been quick to point out that Mutual Aid has long been around — well before the pandemic. She spoke fondly about the communities she’s forged around spaces like the former Brooklyn nightclub Spectrum. She also remembered the legacy of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson’s Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), founded in 1970 following the Stonewall uprising, which provided shelter and social space for trans sex workers and LGBTQ youth.

“People have always needed support,” Golden said. “It’s never not been about supporting your community. I just think it’s worth mentioning that Black and trans and queer people around the country and world have always been riding for one another and compassionate for one another.”

Still from “#BlackLivesMatter 2020, Dusk is Not Quite Day And Certainly Not Night” (2020) (image courtesy Yves B. Golden and Jerome AB)

Golden doesn’t distinguish between her work as an artist and an activist: such boundaries do not serve. She described these practices as “tethered” to each other and bound by an overarching intention “to preserve, enhance, and fortify my communities and honor the spirit of Black/Trans resilience that carried and mothered me.” Recently, working within the contact constraints of the pandemic, Golden created a series of collaborative video works, which, like HMAN, channel rage and center care. In “#BlackLivesMatter 2020, Dusk is Not Quite Day And Certainly Not Night” (2020), streamable on Blake and Vargas’s website, her poems scroll over an image by artist Jerome AB. Against the soundtrack of Sonny Sharrock’s unruly jazz song “Peanut,” we read: “I stripped bare / and yawning cat before a fan and traced the / lines my blackness my body my black body makes (IMPRESSIONS).” Golden uses language to describe the contours of Black bodies, imagining their boundaries blurring to reveal an essential connectedness. To envision and name this kind of melding is to imagine a new kind of world.

Good Fist of Creation (2020), cover (image courtesy Yves B. Golden and Enes Publishing)

Her collection of poems Good Fist of Creation (2020), recently re-released in a second edition by Enes Publishing, hand-printed on black paper, also reflects on the body: its idleness, the shape of its longing. Her belief in language, an ebb and flow between written and spoken word (she was raised in a family of spoken word poets), permeate the works and how she operates more broadly: “I really do believe in words, so when I say fuck the police or Black Trans Lives matter, I really, really mean them, and I expect that to be what everyone else means, when they repost it, when they write it, when they say it.”

Golden concluded, choosing her words carefully, “I think now, especially, we need to resist rigidity and strive to be like water, to be a dynamic resource to one another.” She added, “I have no doubt that collectively we can create a new model that prioritizes care, liberates and transforms, eliminates the glass vessel that fixes water to its shape. But to achieve that we are going to have to get really abstract and let our imaginations lead us into this next phase. No more glass, only flow.”

Yves B. Golden, page from Good Fist of Creation (image courtesy Yves B. Golden and Enes Publishing)

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Camila McHugh

Camila McHugh is a Berlin-based independent critic and curator from California. You can follow her at @cestcamila.