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09.09.2016
Meet The Blacks
The Narcissist's Parade
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ElectrikBabyPrettyBlack

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#electrikbabyprettyblack

Model. Dancer. Muse. Photographer.
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Malika Deshon at Goat Farm Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia – photo by Al Shaw Ki

“Pretty Black” is not only a term to viscerally describe a smooth, chocolate colored complexion or a stark scenic reference.  It also happens to be the dynamic alter-ego, code name and moniker for Malika Deshon, a self-proclaimed model, dancer, muse, photographer and photojournalist. Getting into the modelling game since her early college years, Malika has covered a lot of ground with her unique and infectious look, charisma and enigmatic energy.  What comes to mind are images of Eartha Kitt, Ruby Dee, Millie Jackson and Grace Jones rolled up into one person.  Those attributes and qualities have led her on excursions all around the world, rendering unsuspecting victims helpless to her hypnosis.    Who knew that working as a waitress at Houston’s would lead Malika to a detour of international wine marketing for a prestigious wine distributor in Miami?  She sure didn’t.    But everything hasn’t always come so easy for Ms. Deshon, as she knows a thing or two all about paying dues.  In 2010 she launched her freelance photography endeavor coined “Electrikbaby Photography” inspired by her daughter, Avye Luz.  In honor of her new-found motherhood, she found it irresistibly hard not to incorporate this miraculous blessing of life into her passionate hobby.  Now, six years later, Malika is steady exercising all of her god-given talents just like an electric current… and she’s not afraid to bare her truth.

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Maurice Evans and Malika Deshon in action.  photo by Grace Kisa courtesy Pangeasgarden.com

Known to some as a creative muse, she is most popular for her work and collaborations with reknowned Atlanta based artists and photographers including Maurice Evans, Grace Kisa, Wak, Shannon McCollum, Merrill Robinson Jr., Alan Kimara Dixon, Jason Orr and many others.

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During a recent video shoot with Malika, Maurice Evans and Grace Kisa at TAoN Studios, Atlanta, I had the pleasure of watching the trifecta of artistic influences coalesce as well as witness the culmination of creativity erupt to form one cohesive piece of art.  Afterwards, Grace and Maurice sat me down and schooled me on the definition of a muse.

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Grace Kisa and Maurice Evans – art, photography and design by Malika Deshon

MAURICE EVANS

Malika was introduced to me through an ex-boyfriend of hers who was also an artist.  They came to a show that I was having in Atlanta.  He really liked what I was doing.  It was actually a photography show, and most people knew me for my paintings but I had started playing around with photography.  He brings her to me and says you have to shoot her.  I meet her for the first time and I’m like wow, she’s gorgeous!  So, I ask her if she was open to whatever, and she says yeah.  That’s important as far as a muse is concerned. You want someone who is not afraid and has little to no inhibitions.  


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That was, even though I don’t use this term, a blessing.  So, she comes to us, open, and allows us to explore and do whatever we want.  She’s has an incredible body, she’s a dancer, she’s fit, she’s cut, lean and she’s shapely at the same time.  For me, it inspired many things.  when I’m thinking about a project, often Malika’s name comes up first.  I see things and say, that would be cool with Malika.  We’ve done nude shoots with her in the mountains, in the wild.  

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Grace put these diamond studs all over her body in one of the first shoots we did with her. We’ve strapped dryer coils and ducts on her to make phallic symbols and she just used it and did her Malika thing.  It was incredible.  You have to be open.  A lot of times you’ll ask a model that you’re interested in, but they’re not open to or feeling the nudity or open to different things.  That’s what’s cool about Malika.  Not only is she open,  she can do it because she’s a dancer, she can act and she’s good at positioning her body in certain ways and giving it life.  I love her complexion.  It’s just so many things.  I can’t say enough about Malika.  She’s brilliant.

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GRACE KISA

I was there on that first shoot with her, and most shoots up until today.  And this whole thing works as a collaborative process.  Malika is not just a mannequin that we dress up and shoot, she brings the ideas to life.  She’s acting out the concepts that we have worked out.  Sometimes, something will happen that neither one of us saw before hand.  So it ends up being totally different from what we initially thought.  That comes from the collaboration and being open to what can happen when three people get together.  

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Malika Deshon and Grace Kisa – photo by Al Shaw Ki

She is an equal contributor to the process, an integral part of the end product.  She’s and actor.  She can express herself without words just in body alone.  She knows the language of her body.  She knows her angles and she knows her light, and she can express it effectively.  I shot her a few times for my own concepts and I look at those pictures from eight years ago and they still stand the test of time.  So, the better I’ve gotten, those pics can still stand the scrutiny of experience.

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The important part is being open.  So, we have our initial ideas and may even sketch it out, but I have to be open to whatever the other person has to give to the concept or idea.  Sometimes, Grace has her own ideas and I have to open to them.  So I don’t shut down because it’s not what I wanted.  Sometimes its way, way better than what I would’ve thought.  You have to be open.  That’s the thing about being a collaborator.  Because if you’re not going to be open, you can do it by yourself.  Malika’s an artist.  She’s a renaissance woman. 

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Grace, Marice and Malika “The Trifecta” – photo by Al Shaw Ki

GRACE

Another component is a level of trust.  We built that over time.  We built that over a decade and it shows.  Sometimes we’re lucky to find that same rhythm, the same symbiotic relationship with other models, but it takes time.  Malika has set the bar very high.  To a point where I’ve been on other shoots with other models and I have to realize that they’re not going to be Malika.

The interesting thing is, Malika speaks very highly of Maurice and Grace in the same admiration.  The feeling is undoubtedly mutual and perfect for their collaborative process, and is clearly evident in their work.

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photo by Al Shaw Ki

MAURICE

I have to go back to the first time.  We didn’t know each other.  But it didn’t take long.  That night we came up with some great stuff.  The connection happened very quickly.  The trust happened very quickly.  Once we all realized what was happening, we wanted to do more.  It’s an exchange.  Over time, Malika has become like my little sister and she knows that I love her.  We have times that we don’t agree, and may have our issues, but at the end of the day, she knows I love her and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.  There is the trust.  And if she’s uncomfortable she can just tell me, and it’s fine and we don’t do it.

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Illustration by Wak

Although her modesty won’t let her admit it, Malika is a prominent figure in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her presence has graced many canvas and lenses of respected artists area for nearly 20 years.  Now, she is determined to make that recognition work for her own brand of voyeur, Electrikbaby.

TAoN:

When did you first realize your unique talents?

MD:

I’ve danced since I was about five years old. I wanted to be a model since I was like eleven or twelve but it was sort of a secret because I thought I would get laughed at if I revealed that dream. Plus, I didn’t see any models that looked like me.  I got a subscription to Elle magazine when I saw models like Roshumba  and Beverly Peele and secretly made collages of them and any other black models I saw in Elle and fantasized about being in a magazine one day.  When I got to high school, we had a career day and a rep from an agency came and held an informational.  I wanted to attend but was afraid that if I showed up there, I would get laughed at for attending and even thinking I could be a model.  I came up with a plan. I would go in, but if anyone asked, I’d say I wandered into the wrong session.  So, I went and asked the rep, a white lady, why didn’t I see any or many dark skinned models.  She stated that dark skin didn’t photograph well and that I could never be a model.  So, with that heartbreak, it would be another nine years before I even would consider it.  When I got to college, The Source magazine along with MTV was doing a Black College Model Search. I was literally forced by some college comrades to audition.  We had to walk the runway in front of everyone!   Getting in front of my peers and being televised was daunting to say the least. Well… in spite of all of that, I won!  I was the one female selected and was flown to New York and got a full page editorial in The Source! Right after that I was an Elite Model look finalist and then a Essence/Wilhelmina cover model runner up.

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TAoN:

Besides your obvious skin tone and complexion, how did you come up with the moniker “pretty black”?

MD:

Funny story…I’d heard my mother tell the story my whole life.  It’s about how she acquired the same name when she got to college which, coincidentally, I also attended. My story was almost identical (to hers).  Freshman year , a guy started calling me that, and it just stuck.  Now, when someone yells “Pretty Black”, she and I both turn around!

TAoN:

As a darker skinned model, what is the perceived blow back  vs having fairer skin?

MD:

More real than perceived I would say.  I went to open calls at some of the top agencies. When I looked at their model walls, I never saw anyone that had my complexion. It was never a problem with “black” model calls but I feel like it was definitely an issue at the major agencies.

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TAoN:

You’ve mentioned that you want to help inspire young black girls to actualize their dreams in beauty and fashion somehow.  Can you elaborate on this?

MD:

Part of my drive was to validate my type of beauty by being in the pages of a magazine.  Just wanted to see if I could  shatter what I’d always been told primarily by other black folk, and that was  – that I wasn’t pretty.  Then I’d hoped that by seeing me, other girls that looked like me would see and accept their own beauty. Standards of beauty has continually been an issue in our world.

TAoN:

You’ve worked with several vanguard artists and photographers who were inspired by your beauty and presence.  Some often describe you as their muse.  Are you comfortable with the idea of being considered a muse to people?

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MD:

I love it! I feel like we are both artists working in tandem to create so method incredible.  It brings me great joy and satisfaction when I work with another artist and they light up.  It’s so gratifying.  I absolutely love how that feels and it’s addictive.  But it’s funny because I don’t view the her in the image as me Per se.  I become the art and look at it from a viewer’s perspective rather than a participant.

TAoN:

Does the muse ever have muse?  What inspires you and your vision?

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Erykah Badu live at One Music Fest, ATL 9/10/16 – courtesy of Elecktrikbaby photography

MD:

Wow. That’s complex because it’s a culmination of Alvin Ailey and Stevie Wonder and Africa and sexuality.  It’s drums and colors and spirituality.  It’s my bliss and pain.  It’s all that is embodied into what makes me, me.

TAoN:

Photography is fairly a new serious forte for you.  How long have you been interested in the art of photography?

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Patti Labelle – photo by Malika Deshon www.electrikbaby.com

MD:

I’ve been framing images in my head forever.  Sometimes using my eyes to “click” certain things as I experience them because I didn’t always have a camera.  I’ve always been an artist.  I started painting when I was five.

You are breaking narcissistic boundaries of being a model/photographer.  Why did you decide to integrate the distinction between the subject and the objective?

MD:

I realized that while I’m being shot(as a model), I’m framing the shot in my head from the photographers perspective.  I love it when I see that the photographer I’m working with is shooting exactly what I’d hoped to see.  Now, as a more serious photographer myself, I thought it would be interesting to show both aspects of myself.

TAoN:

The name of your company “Electrikbaby” was inspired by your daughter, Avye Luz.  Is she your latest muse?

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MD:

Electrikbaby was a name that I got from my Avye’s father.  He’d come up with it while looking at an image I’d shot of our her.  I loved it and thought it described my photographic and personal styles perfectly!

TAoN:

I know this is an obvious question, but how challenging is it being a single mom, raising a daughter while launching your career endeavors?

MD:

Need you ask?!  Of course.  Being a single parent is challenging period.  But I am even more driven by that now.  I want her to see ME doing ME greatly so as to inspire the same greatness in her.

MD:

We are often described in many ways by others.  How would you describe yourself best?

MD:

I describe myself as the lover, the mother, the artist, the healer, the paradigm shifter, the teacher, and… the muse.

TAoN:

What advice would you give to the next generation of “Pretty Blacks” or “Electrikbabies”?

MD:

Don’t wait. Do it now!  Believe it or not, I’m still learning this today.

Creative Loafing, a popular Atlanta weekly newspaper recounts a concert featuring Hiatus Kaiyote in regards to the track “Malika” off of their debut LP Tawk Tomohawk.   ‘”Malika” similarly pays homage to a prominent, but unknown female figure in the lead singer’s life. Local dancer and photographer, Malika Deshon, was so moved by her meeting with Nai Palm earlier at Moods Music in L5P, with coincidences not only in the song’s name but in such experiences as their love of the jasmine flower and travels through Australia, that she was asked to join the group onstage with freeform movement to accompany the music.”‘ – Shannon Barbour, Creative Loafing Atlanta

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You can join the muse of Malika Deshon’s Electrickbaby art and photography at www.electrikbaby.com or Instagram@electrikbaby

 by ASK

 

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