Blackness, Baltimore, and screening Solange Knowles’ ‘When I Get Home’

When Solange dropped When I Get Home, someone on Tumblr said, “Solange makes the type of music you burn incense and paint to. The type of music you have playing in the background of a parked car conversation.” And honestly? I felt that.

It was March 2019, a time of power and transition for me. And of course, When I Get Home took me by a storm. I was just as obsessed with Hozier’s wild yarn on romance in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as I was on Solange’s meditations on the  black diaspora. And just like with Hozier, Solo’s melodic musings asked me to open my heart — despite all the ache vulnerability had brought me in the past and could bring me now — and to lead with love, anyway.

So when I saw on Instagram that screenings of When I Get Home were hitting the road, I couldn’t scroll past it. I did that scan we all do when our fave announces a tour and my eyes landed on Baltimore. I was an Amtrak veteran. I wasn’t going to let a little distance stop me from the opportunity to soak in Solange’s artistry, the way it was meant to be experienced (just short of an IRL performance, of course). Trekking to Baltimore to see Solo’s film was worth it. When I Get Home is a fierce, sensual ode to blackness: to the mystery, magic, and mysticism of it, but, too, how the romance of black identity isn’t always some larger-than-life, gatekept thing. Sometimes being black and regular is Romantic, too.

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“When I Get Home” global film tour via Solange Knowles on Instagram

Getting to Baltimore —

from D.C. is actually v straightforward. Make your way to Union Station on the red line, and hop on an Amtrak train. The cheapeast tickets I peeped (about three weeks in advance of my departure date) were $9 each. My friend Lydia and I bought ours about a week in advance and we snagged some for $19 a pop.

Getting to the museum —

and more importantly, where the film was being screened, on the other hand — was a trying experience. Solange truly gave her Baltimore beloveds a Black™ experience. I can’t tell you what the Baltimore Museum of Art is like, but I can tell you about the Baltimore Museum of Art’s branch in Lexington Market. I’m not going to skirt around what I truly mean with coded language. It’s a black *ss establishment in a black *ss neighborhoood.

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Lexington Market / Caroline Colvin

And more importantly, it’s the cozy little nook tucked in a maze of produce, poultry, fish, sweets, and fried chicken stalls: A spread of folding chairs, a pull-down screen and a projector, and minimalist, white book shelves stacked with artsy zines, free for the public to read. The BMA Lexington Market space opened in June 2019 and you can come and make art there, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Lexington Market / Caroline Colvin
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Lexington Market / Caroline Colvin
Lexington Market / Caroline Colvin
BMA Lexington Market / Caroline Colvin
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BMA Lexington Market / Caroline Colvin

Screening ‘When I Get Home’

Visual albums come in all shapes in forms. Solange’s older sister wrote the book on visual albums . So did her own formidable ally in being a quirky black womxn, Janelle Monáe. More like Beyoncé and less like Monáe, When I Get Home was abstract and did not have a narrative arc, at all. Instead, it was a string of visual incantations, evoking all sorts of ancient history.

Sartorially speaking, it was unmatched. You couldn’t help but watch, mouth a bit agape, as each song and scene burst with all sorts of fierce-clean-but-still-offbeat fashion inspiration. Somehow, she fused the masculine-feminine, big-blazered silhouettes of femmes in the 80s with the stringy tops of the 90s. There was snakeskin and light-wash denim, which felt very 2019. But there were also hammered metal breast-plates (shout-out Thierry Mugler), mesh, sparkling chainmail (courtesy of my favorite lingerie designer, Yeha Leung), and G-strings.

Each dress code was enforced across the board, so these fantastical #OOTDs felt like a uniform. And in their uniformity, the diversity of the black bodies and faces stood out: different shades of brown, different textures of hair, different planes of cheeks, and noses, and lips making a symphony on different-but-equally black faces.

And more impressive still, in the same way she drew from the past, present, and future for her costumes, Solange presented the idea of a black cowboy. Smartly dressed men gallop through washed-out, urban and suburban Texas streets, like African-American fever dream. Likewise, viewers get front-row seats to men in brown slacks and warm turtlenecks, and their arthouse rodeo, where bulls gallop in slow-motion poetry. Sometimes, Solo ups the ante, turning our attention to how she elegantly tips her ten-gallon or gyrates on an isolated saddle. Other, Solo lets us glimpse regular-degular men, trotting gallantly through their hoods. And of course, there’s are the intergalactic cowboys, writhing, primal figures (animated by Jacolby Satterwhite) that really had me wigging out.

Of course, it goes without saying: Solange yee’d so Lil Nas X could haw. Solange lasso’d the bull so Megan Thee Stallion could ride it. (You get the picture.) Historically speaking, cowboys of color have been killing sh*t since the 1870s, at least. And you’d be remiss not to take note of Cowgirls of Color, an all-women rodeo team from Maryland, who are slaying the present day. And there are loads of your black and brown faves who have consistently pushed the Yeehaw Agenda for all the years in between.

What’s real? What’s not real? What’s glamorous and what’s boring? Solange asks us to consider and re-consider in When I Get Home. The most poignant moment for me came during my fave off the record, “Dreams.” That song always shifted for me: Is she referencing the far-away dreams behind wandering eyes and closed eyelids? Or is she talking about tangible accomplishments, goals that you really can work toward? The trippy, unimaginably continuous take of little black kids crammed in a kiddie pool in someone’s front lawn, boarded-up homes, the dried-up leaves a hard-working scrapes up, an ominous figure blanketed in ivy, and other snippets of black suburbia confirmed: Solange was talking about both. I’m not sure if that — or the visual album in general — gave me the answers I craved or saddled me with more questions.

On a lighter, less existential note,  I’m not going to gloss over the fact that watching Solange’s clip for Binz reminded me, again, viscerally, that I’m very much attracted to Solange. Compulsory heterosexuality literally had me tripping and ignoring that fact that Solange moves her hips like God, and the fire in her eyes would probably burn me up IRL.

The day’s ‘fit

I drew inspiration from a few places, mainly some now-archived Insta pics of Solo in peak art hoe, cowboy mode and Solange’s afrofuturistic Spring / Summer 2018 shoot with Dazed. Although, the majority of the credit belongs to my girlfriend, Genna. She scooped the holographic tube top, quintessentially dyke-y cargo pants, and chic cross-body fanny pack from Target’s Wild Fable collection. As someone who recently started identifying as non-binary, I really appreciated the masculine and feminine energies this outfit was serving — so thanks for that, babe!

As per my GF’s request, I paired them with my rose-colored Adidas that have little mirrors on the side. I topped everything off with some rhinestoned, tortoise-shell Topshop earrings I snagged for a smooth $4, because I felt like they’d pull the tiger-print together nicely. Shout-out to Glossier for the iridescent lip gloss they sent me. And shout-out to Lydia for putting up with me and snapping this wonderful picture.

What else does Baltimore have to offer?

The film was 36 minutes, so we def had some time to kill. A spot I’d visit again — preferably with a big group of homies, preferably for a boozy brunch — is Forno Baltimore. If “hipster Italian” was a cuisine, that would be Forno. I got their eggs benedict, subbed ham for smoked salmon (with Lydia’s sage advice), and honestly ascended.

Bootleg eggs benny at Forno / Caroline Colvin

By Caroline Colvin

Black retro-obsessed non-binary baddie ♡ pleasure & wellness advocate ♡ aesthetic archivist ♡

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