Beloved Community: Counteracting Violence with Support
Written by Genie Davis
Jessica Chappe and Persephone Anansi have created a Beloved Community as powerful as it’s subject. Combining Anansi’s fierce poetry with Chappe’s deeply felt documentary photographs, the pair present a project that vibrates with meaning and mastery.
Chappe explains that Beloved Community “came out of a need to do something with the anger and despair I felt about our country. I have been documenting protests since the Women’s March in 2016, and felt the calling like I did then, to grab my camera and take to the streets.”
However, during the BLM protests, something radically changed for her. “This was the first time I felt a deep need to share what I was witnessing but didn’t know how to fully contextualize what I was seeing.”
This concern was resolved when she met Anansi. “I met Persephone on Juneteenth, at a march led by We the Movement. Persephone led us in chant. There was something so unique about her energy and strength up there – I was mesmerized.”
The two connected over Instagram, and Chappe read Anansi’s book of poetry, Your Son is Dead.
“I immediately knew that her poetic voice was what the project needed to give the photos more depth,” Chappe says, explaining the genesis of their collaboration.
Anansi concurs. “Beloved Community came about after Jessica and I met at a protest in June. She approached me about wanting to do the project after reading some of what I’d written about the Black Lives Matter protests.”
Anansi, who is currently studying film production at LA Film School, has a wonderful visual intensity to her words. She says Beloved Community is an outgrowth of her usual poetry. “I’ve stretched my topics to be a lot more political and a lot more concerned with power and criticizing power in our society. I’ve always been a bit of an existential writer and very inward with my work, but as my ideas have been influenced by the world around us, I’ve grown to be more interested in writing about the community and revolution.”
That said, Anansi reveals that she’s still speaking about her own feelings, and about herself, but now “through more of the lens of the ruling powers in our society and where I fit into it, and where communities fit into it.”
Asserting that she wants the project’s viewers to “know that the activism and revolution that started the project doesn’t end with it,” Anansi adds “It’s more than just writing; this is only a part of how we do revolution, and how we move against American power structures.” She adds “It takes more to actually effect change than just writing poetry, or just marching, or just voting. Our work is much more than that.”
Chappe notes that her own work has always dealt primarily with communities and visionaries in different forms. “My thesis project Personal Utopias focused on the different manifestations of unique visions small and large, ranging from a model train club in Kingston, N.Y. that has met once a week for 40 years, to Arcosanti, an architectural ‘utopia’ in Arizona with a focus on being environmentally conscious… Beloved Community grew naturally from realizing that as much as ‘personal utopias’ are needed as sanctuary spaces, the real world needs to be faced with all its flaws. Out of these protests and collective grieving, new communities have formed and are working towards reclaiming the streets as their own. That is what I find most powerful about this moment in time.”
For Anansi, having both witnessed directly and experienced herself terrible violence from police at protests, “The place I was at mentally when this movement began is vastly different from where I am now…This project is meant to uplift communities and provide a different view of what justice is. ‘Law enforcement’ is an obsolete concept because police enforce laws selectively… all we have is us. Ourselves. And all we need is us. If these pictures make you uncomfortable, I would argue you are not being made uncomfortable enough.”
Chappe reveals that the camera gives her strength, assisting her in a push past her own limits, and increasing her confidence to search for truth. “Personal Utopias is the catalyst for all my work to date. That project inspired me to envision a different way of living and made me realize I can use my photography to spread what inspires me in the hopes that it will carry.” She says that she’s constantly seeking new ways to go deeper, new ways to work collaboratively, and she wants to use her skills to “serve a purpose for the people and communities I document through giving back.” Her hope is that this “giving back” will inspire viewers.
“I want viewers and readers to feel the depth and scope of this movement. There are several different communities that are part of it, and different perspectives from all different backgrounds.” She adds, “I want people to question our form of protecting and serving in communities and start finding ways they can get involved.”
The idea of collective human experience – and documenting it – infuses a great deal of her work. “It is in our nature as humans to create tribes. We learn, grow and create culture through being in community.”
According to Chappe, she found a true merger of photography with collective human experience when she stayed at a kibbutz in Israel. “There was a point system in place, so no one needed physical money, everyone had their specific duties…young children were able to wander…everyone looked out for each other. I had never seen anything quite like it before. It made me realize the power in collective consciousness, and it planted the question, how do people choose to coexist?”
That question was still burning in her when she became involved in We the Movement, on Juneteenth 2020, the same day she met Anansi. She describes the movement as being comprised of “17 people who all met at a protest on the frontlines and decided to start their own organization to create change.” To support it, she says “Persephone and I decided to create a print sale, including four photographs I took, accompanied by four poems written by Persephone, [as well as offering] Persephone’s book, Your Son is Dead.”
“I believe the way to make real change is in supporting people within your own communities who you feel are making a direct difference,” Chappe asserts.
You can view Anansi and Chappe’s work, Beloved Community, online as they work to make a difference together.
To purchase photographs and poems, please visit the Store. 2/3rds of the proceeds will be donated to We the Movement.