Chemistry of finding yourself

By The Columbia Chronicle

While working as a chemist in so-called “corporate America,” Gianina Lockley had a breakthrough. Though she studied for several years to earn a degree in chemistry, she started to have second thoughts about her life, her career path and her identity.

“After daydreaming and causing a small fire in the lab, I realized that working for corporate America wasn’t for me,” Lockley said. “There just wasn’t any chemistry there.”

An Interdisciplinary Art Thesis candidate at Columbia, Gianina Lockley explores the layered complexity in defining blackness through her piece “Just How Black?” Lockley will perform her piece on April 23 and April 24 at the 618 Building, 618 S. Michigan Ave., and will also be featured on the day of Manifest. Lockley’s piece will be shown on monitors located in the Center for Book and Paper Arts gallery at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., throughout the run of the show at the annual festival.

Lockley started her artistic career in a non traditional way by obtaining a chemistry degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. for what she thought would be a career in chemistry for the rest of her life. With her degree in hand, she entered into her first job working for what she calls “corporate America.” The monotony and lack of liveliness of her position caused her to ask the question that most young adults are faced with:  “Is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Upon this realization, she knew that there was more to her existence and sought out to discover it.

“When asked about his unannounced departure from the States, comedian and writer Dave Chappelle replied: ‘Get yo’ Africa ticket ready.’ I did just that as I began to uncover questions regarding my identity,” Lockley said. She has spent the past five years traveling throughout East and West Africa, as well as the United States, studying culture, collecting stories and questioning the construction and performance of identity that human beings create.

“While in Africa, I was shocked when peers and instructors asked me, ‘So … just how black are you?’ I had never been asked that in the States and didn’t quite understand how to answer it.  I mean … how can I measure my blackness? How black is black enough?” Lockley said. These questions have served as the catalyst for her work.

“Just How Black?” incorporates narrative, performance, photography, video and movement to explore the restraints, yet the stability associated with defining one’s identity. Her goal as an artist is to stimulate thought, create discussion and propel an action and motion of awareness, enlightenment and change.

Lockley not only invites the audience to come along for her journey into blackness but to recognize that they, too, are on the path to better understanding the chemistry within themselves.