Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2016. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
Brittani Sensabaugh, best known by her moniker Brittsense, is an Oakland-based photographer documenting the vibrant lives in forgotten “melanated” neighborhoods. Her series 222 Forgotten Cities give voice to communities without a voice, and give love to communities who need unconditional love.
Where do you live?
Describe yourself in one word?
I can’t describe myself in one word — I’m inspired by everything but I’m defined by nothing.
What did you do last night?
Last night I documented the beauty of my people in Kingston, Jamaica.
What can’t you live without?
Nature. It balances me out and keeps me sane. The smell of greenery and being by the water puts things into perspective for me. I’m a cancer, so I’m full of water.
If you could travel any where in the world, where would it be?
It differs depending on the different chapters in my life, but it’s a toss up between Africa, Cuba, Jamaica, and India.
Who is your personal hero? Why?
I think I’m inspired by my people. I’m very inspired by Tupac Shakur, Assata Shakur. My mother inspires me to love unconditionally and teaches me to be strong. Sherrie Glassman is an uplifting force who reminds me to stay positive.
How did you find your creative voice?
I think I’m still finding my creative voice. I don’t allow myself to get stuck in one chapter and one phase; I allow myself to evolve. But being from East Oakland and traveling to other cities and being able to experience different cultures and communities has added to my creative voice.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m reclusive. People might think I look like I want to stand out with my head wraps, but I don’t like a lot of attention.
What do you do when you feel uninspired?
I watch Tupac interviews, I listen to J. Dilla, Anita Baker. I love music. I also like to speak about life and hear people’s stories.
What’s been your biggest ‘learning moment,’ and what did you you take from the experience?
Working on 222 Forgotten Cities took me out of my comfort zone. I realized that I always want to be a healer and it’s about planting the seeds so that we all can grow. I’ve learned that everything’s a process and nothing instantly happens, and that happiness is a journey.
What’s your greatest achievement, and how has it shaped you?
I think a great achievement is waking up and getting to spread the love that I have. No matter what I’ve been through, I just want to love unconditionally. But as far as societal achievements go, I shot my first book cover — Pushout by Monique Morris, about the criminalization of black girls in schools.
Coffee or tea? What kind?
Chamomile tea, with a pour of honey. It’s smooth and it relaxes me.
What does a perfect day look like for you?
I wake up, I meditate, I give thanks to the universe and Ma’at. It depends on what I’m feeling when I wake up — some days I’d want to stay in and listen to music and read, or I can sit at Indian Rock and see the whole Bay Area and just embrace, not think. I don’t really think out my day much — however it flows, I’ll flow with that.
Who are your local inspirations?
It differs because I’m inspired by each moment and I don’t really have one person that I’m inspired by. I think people from East Oakland really inspire me — I love the OGs and the big mamas who look after the neighborhood, I’m inspired by the youth and their innocence and curiosity.
I don’t eat cheese anymore, but nachos or french fries. On the healthier side, I love spinach, I love kale, salmon — I love coconut oil, because I can also use it on my hair.
What upcoming show are you excited about?
I’m actually working on putting on an exhibit called The Town — it’s me and a couple of my homies taking photos of East Oakland on disposable cameras to see everyone’s different perspective of the city. I’m also part of the Oakland Fence Project with NAMAC, which is a collaboration with three other youths from East Oakland.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I want to have a lot of children, I want to have a lot of land — I don’t want to be in America, for sure. I want to be traveling still. I want to own all of my stuff.
If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting, what would it be?
If I could live in a music video, I would live either in Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” or “Drop” by Pharcyde.
Where and when can people see you or your art in action?
I’ll be traveling to different places the next few months, but you’ll probably find me shooting in East Oakland.
Check out Brittsense in action below:
Curious about who else made the list? Check out the Women to Watch series page, including photo galleries, interviews, and videos.