Raven B. Varona is known for capturing some of the best sides of our faves in the industry. However, this time she’s getting a bit more personal by capturing the real stars in her life, people in her home city — The Bronx.
Her virtual art gallery titled “And The B is For” is Raven’s personal love letter to the city that raised her and the everyday people who have always been essential to her life, long before COVID-19 deemed what it meant to be an essential worker.
And The B is For — “B” being symbolic of how we have the power to define life to whatever we want it to be — is her first-ever solo gallery and a virtual hub that takes viewers on a journey through The Bronx.
AfroTech had the opportunity to sit down with Raven to further discuss the meaning behind the exhibit’s art, the love she has for her city, and how it all came to fruition despite the challenges of COVID-19.
AfroTech: If your photos from the exhibit could talk, what do you think they’d say?
Raven: The people in the Bronx are extraordinary. I think they would say that our community is diverse and multicultural…full of history and stories. I want them to really feel rich in every aspect you can think of things being rich. Even the colors in the photographs are important to me and I wanted the photos to be bright and to highlight the stories of the people that are in them.
For example, I had to dress my mom up in a Balenciaga coat and take her into the supermarket that she shops every day. When you really take a minute to look at the details of each picture, like the elements that we added — beyond them just being good photos — the stories behind it are what’s really important. That’s the cool thing about photography, right? You go somewhere and you see a photo and you interpret what the story is.
AfroTech: Wow, having gone through the gallery (quite a few times), this sums it up perfectly. Which photograph is your mom?
Raven: “Barbara’s Daughter” is my mom. It’s named after my grandma.
I don’t have a middle name, so my name is literally Raven B. I only have an initial and so I wanted to play off of the fact that my grandma’s name is Barbara. She passed when my mother was 26 and so I wanted to pay homage to her while also paying homage to my mom.
It poses the question, what is the “B” for? The “B” is for the Bronx, the “B” is for beauty, the “B” is for bright. The “B” can be for so many things.
AfroTech: Dope! Any other insights viewers should know about?
Raven: All of the street names are the names within my neighborhood, symbolic of where the pictures are actually located. Home is obviously my home and that’s where you see the photos of my mom. She’s obsessed with plants, hence the room is filled with plants.
“Play These Numbers” is actually the lotto tickets that my mother has me play for her. She plays the same numbers religiously, like every day.
The Bodega’s name is Zerega because that’s literally the street that it’s located on. All of the names in the virtual gallery correspond with the areas and the stories behind them.
AfroTech: You started this project pre-pandemic. What was your vision?
Raven: I wanted to tell a story about the people who inspire me. I grew up in the same neighborhood all my life and just relocated to LA in July, but this is where I commuted to grade school, commuted to college — I never left. All of my inspiration up until this point has been from the Bronx. Of course, I get to travel for work and things like that, but this is the core of my inspiration. It blossomed into a story about the people I care about — my family, the everyday people that I interact with.
I teamed up with my friend and stylist Bobby Wesley, shared my concept and idea for [the] project, he styled all of the shoots and the rest was history. It became my love letter to the Bronx.
AfroTech: How did COVID-19 put a curveball in the actual execution of the project?
Raven: We shot from December 2019 to March 2020 and originally planned to have the gallery debut on March 27, but of course COVID hit and put it on the back-burner. The photos and the story were so personal to me. I didn’t want people to just instantaneously experience them on social media. I felt like there needed to be a moment. The whole buildup of it all was creating a moment around the people that are important to me so I didn’t want to let it go to waste.
During that waiting process, I thought it would be cool to have a virtual gallery because the reality is that COVID and this pandemic are not letting up and I don’t know when’s the next time I can provide an experience for people to actually almost really feel the photos.
AfroTech: I understand that you did have a small, one-day event prior to releasing the virtual gallery.
Raven: Yes. Obviously, with COVID restrictions in place, which included a limited number of people inside the gallery at a time, and everyone was required to wear a mask.
I wanted New York City to experience this in person to some degree and then I launched it virtually so that everyone could see.
AfroTech: What advice do you have for others within your field who are trying to figure out other innovative ways to create during these times?
Raven: Be mindful that time doesn’t hinder the value of your work. I would encourage people to still be shooting in their capacity, telling their own stories, not focusing on celebrity stuff, or having to be at the forefront of pop culture. Create to create for yourself and share it how you want it to be shared. Don’t get so caught up on numbers and critiques.
If I’ve taken anything from 2020, it would be that I would do this until the day that I die because it fulfills me.
Make sure you’re doing the work that is fulfilling to you but give yourself the time and grace that everything might not be exactly how you want it to be — do everything to the best of your ability.
AfroTech: You’re always managing to find new ways to keep it authentic and creative and most importantly, true to yourself, how did you do that with this gallery?
Raven: This one was a lot of self-growth for me. It’s one thing to shoot an artist or shoot for a brand because they already have a vision. It’s another thing to fine-tune your own vision, especially in the midst of a pandemic and the world kind of being upside down.
It was the execution for me. If I would’ve taken these pictures and just put them on Instagram or Twitter, I wouldn’t have been raising the bar for myself or anyone else.
Having the virtual gallery, having the one in person and being there for eight hours and talking to everyone that came and explaining what I did and giving advice, and all of these things are what I deem as a way to elevate your art.
You have to elevate it beyond just having people see it, you need to create an experience for it.
To experience the virtual gallery, click here.