A Conversation With Brittsense

Brittsense, a 28-year-old photographer, chronicles the lives and styles of people of color (a phrase she would never use, preferring the term “melanated”). But the East Oakland native, born Brittani Sensabaugh, is much more than a documentarian: She is a multimedia force for change, sending a message of love and strength with her compelling images, which can be seen in galleries, in published works, and on her roadside billboards throughout Oakland. Her 222forgottencities project, which documented marginalized communities across the U.S.,  has been featured in publications such as Essence, Ebony, and O The Oprah Magazine. Some of these remarkable images will be featured in RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom. Here, Brittsense discusses Hip-Hop, art, and her creative goals.

Q: Tell us about your photographs in RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom.

I’m contributing photographs from a book I published called The Power of Melanin. The book is about how melanated people are vibrant and soulful and beautiful. Melanated people have been looked at as savages and as all kinds of negative stereotypes. But I want to go beyond that expression of our traumas and struggles. Instead, I want to express how our light and beauty shine through. My goal is to uplift through communication and positivity. My participation within this exhibition is an example of me holding myself accountable daily to spread our existence from the root and through a perspective of love and healing. I'm excited to be a force in Oakland that is recognized for keeping our culture alive.

Q: How has your hometown of Oakland been an influence on you? 

Oakland is a revolutionary place that allows you to be who you are. Oakland is of the people and for the people, and there is liberation in that. And there is so much beauty here that is overlooked. 

Q: What other artists inspire you? 

I have many artistic inspirations. Here are two of them: Anita Baker—she is one of my favorite singers. And Gordon Parks. He is the only photographer that really gets me thinking beyond the photo, which is what I try to achieve through my photography, too.

Q: What connects you and your work to Hip-Hop?

What is Hip-Hop? Hip-Hop is balance, vision, rhythm, vibration, soul, and a spirit beyond the flesh. It’s almost too powerful to express in words. Hip-Hop is a process of transitions. In many ways, the way I view Hip-Hop is the way I view my individual journey while I exist here on earth. The different instruments of Hip-Hop remind me of the different tools and abilities that we all must tap into to reach the fulfillment we yearn for. It’s bigger than just music. Hip-Hop is a culture and it’s everything, which is a reflection of melanated people. This is our culture and what we have built for ourselves; we embodied our whole culture for the 20th century in Hip-Hop.

Photography: Courtesy of BrittSense and 222MediaLLC (BrittSense).

RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board and members of the Donor Forum.

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