It is 4:48 AM and I am on a train back from Basel headed to Zurich. Doesn’t that sound like wealth?! Yeah, well, pipe down Switzerland has left your girl for dead. I was only a couple more coffee purchases away from auditioning for Squid Game.
If you’ve been keeping up with my gallivanting on this blog or on Instagram you know that I am currently on sabbatical trying to find the meaning of life. So far I’ve got nothing, I’m literally 3 weeks in, and I’ve run out of deodorant (that’s a story for another day) BUT I’ve had some pretty incredible experiences. The story I am about to tell you is about my experience at Art Basel this past weekend and it can NOT be made up. It is so bizarre that I am still in shock.
Wait, before I get into it let me explain what the hell this festival is even about. Art Basel is an art gathering held annually in three major cities, Hong Kong, Miami, and Basel, and I’ve decided to check it out in Basel, Switzerland as it fell on my birthday. My overly simplified version of the purpose of Art Basel is to bring curators, galleries, artists, art collectors, etc. together to buy, sell, and share artwork (I’m sure there are other explanations for this event but I’m sticking to this one.) This ain’t your “support local artists” yard sale, pieces were on sale for upwards of $40 million. So now that I’ve set the scene and called you broke lets get back to the point of this article.
I arrived in Basel on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I am fresh off my 30th birthday celebration (slightly hungover and tired). I check into my basic ass Airbnb and somehow muster up the energy to check out the neighborhood. I walk for about 3 minutes and then boom I’m looking right onto the Rhine River. It is nothing but fine European men laid out on the sand trying to get a tan, jumping into the river, and floating on a device they call a Wickelfisch. I’m like OK this is niceeeeee – the Airbnb may be giving “utilitarian” but the neighborhood is definitely giving cultural luxe experience bay-bee. I walk around a little more and just like that I walk right into a photography outdoor exhibit by Cesar Dezfuli. Y’all I was so blown away. I low-key needed a sign and this was a sign that I was in the exact place I was supposed to be.
Fast forward to Sunday, my ticketed day to visit Art Basel. I wake up nervous and excited. I would say the feeling is comparable to first day of school jitters (outfit laid on bed you know the whole nine). I get dressed and spend about an hour trying to figure out should I wear these kitten heels, should I bring my backpack even though the website specifically says backpacks are prohibited, my mind wonders “to who the hell is going to take my instagram pictures if I can’t bring my tripod.” (I’m giving you this back story because it is really important to understand God’s timing in all of this.) So, after about an hour, I decide yes to the kitten heels, no to the the backpack and f the tripod. I head out to Messe Platz.
I get to the Art Basel Plaza and the place is crawling with people…I mean COVID who? Of course face masks were required, yada yada and I get in line with the regular citizens with my regular/general admissions ticket. Once inside I spend about 30 mins roaming and I’m starting to feel myself because I am getting really good at recognizing artists work without reading the plaques. So I’m LIKE ok bish you belong *flips hair*.
I start to walk towards the other side of the plaza and I pass by an older dark skin man, we make eye contact and I smile with my eyes of course (because COVID) and keep it moving. (Seeing Black people in these spaces, especially a brotha in these spaces is always a breathe of fresh air so I’m always gonna give the courtesy head nod.)
I keep walking for about 30 secs and I see him from the corner of my eye swing back around. He pulls up on me, looks at my forehead, eyes, idk what but immediately asks are you Ethiopian? (Shoutout to my parents for these genes.) I respond “I am” and he lets me know he is from Chad, introduces himself, we do a little small talk about his time in Addis and then he asks if I’ve been to the VIP Collectors Lounge yet. Ok friends, remember when I said I came through the regular citizens line with my general admissions (another word for general is BASIC) ticket – then you all know I damn sure did NOT have access to the Collectors Lounge. I’m looking at this man like nah homie – I IS POOR. He laughs and just like that says “ok come on” and 2 minutes later I am in the Collectors Lounge hanging out with my new friend who I find out later (after some googles) has an extraordinary background. That man took me under his wing for the entire festival. We spent the entire day together (from 12:38PM to 9:30PM). He introduced me to curators, gave me contacts in the art space and access to some of the most exclusive experiences (please see photos below) at the festival and imparted some of the most timely wisdom I needed to hear just a day into my thirties. I know y’all are probably like sis did your mom ever teach you about “stranger danger?” And to be honest I would be lying if I didn’t say that the thought of this man kidnapping me did not cross my mind because it definitely did but I like to think I have good judgement *shrugs shoulders*. (My undiagnosed ADD also made me wonder is it still kidnapping if you are 30 years old?)
I don’t think y’all understand just how wildly generous this man was – his generosity was solely based on the premise that someone did it for him and that he wanted to see a community amongst Black people in the arts. Y’all I got so teary eyed because once again I felt affirmed for traveling over 3000000 miles to be in this space. He gave me a couple words of advice on how to experience life, showed me around the city and then just like that he hopped on a train back to Paris.
I was left dumbfounded. Partly because this was such a random experience but also by my ability to get into some deep ass conversations with people within 15 minutes of meeting them. *Le sigh* what can I say? It is a gift haha.
Anyway y’all know I love to overshare so of course I am sharing the three things that stuck with me during our conversations below.
- You deserve to live the life you live. This is essentially saying you get what you ask/go for. There are a ton of things not in our control but there are equally just as many things that are and can be mastered to create the life (or whatever you want). So show up and do your best – that is all this life requires from us.
- Exposure changes a person. Hanging out in the Collectors Lounge I was able to try out different products from sponsors of the event. One happened to be La Praire, a luxury skincare company, that is well known for their skin caviar collection. The rep walked me through the science/technology behind the product and rubbed the product on my hand. I wish I could give you a verbal description of how it felt but I can’t so here is a visual.
- My new acquittances and I began to have a crazy long conversation on how once you are exposed to certain things you just can’t go back. (I had to bow out though because until I touch my first billion I don’t think La Praire will be in my purview anytime soon.) Exposure and my favorite word access really changes a person. This was a VERY superficial example but it can be applied to just about anything – once you know better you really do want better.
- Die empty. I’m not the biggest fan of talking about death, in fact it makes me uncomfortable but I can confidently say that the goal is to die empty. In this life you can’t take anything with you so take the time to figure out what is important to you and pour into, into people, etc. My new friend had a near death experience in South Africa that really woke him up and just hearing it woke me up.
I firmly believe that my Basel experience would not have been what it was had it gone any other way. That man is an angel and he is now a good friend of mine. Bah-Pna, if you are reading this, thank you for making my Basel experience one of kind, thank you for your wisdom, for you time and effort – I hope to be able to impact another strangers life as you did mine. Also, 10/10 would recommend Basel, Switzerland. (I know it is is a privilege to be able to travel and even more of a privilege to be able to attend these events but I do hope more people can experience this cultural epicenter.)
Anyways life is good. I’m headed to the Bloy Institute to get my first facial with some of the best esthetician’s the Netherlands have to offer. Y’all pray that they don’t oversell me on skincare…because like I said earlier I ain’t got it. Peace.