By Carlene McNair aka CHOSEN.
February 23, 2021
Amber Aliyah Williams also known as SublimeLuv is a renowned creative, born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. Her creativity and vibrant personality are not only seen in her talent as a makeup artist and stylist but it is very much evident in her gift of writing, speaking, and teaching. Being a queer woman of color, diagnosed with a mental illness at a young age, she has risen above the odds and continues to defy societal barriers.
SublimeLuv performing her spoken word poem, "Who Is God"
SublimeLuv obtained her bachelor's degree in Sociology from Simmons University and her certificate in Makeup Artistry from Elizabeth Grady School of Esthetics and Massage Therapy. Her passion for makeup artistry and beauty led her to create The Sublime Face and Sublime Style where she provides professional services as a makeup artist and a personal stylist. Her services are housed under her business, SublimeLuv Brand.
She started writing at a young age and has been performing since 2012; she uses her revolutionary words and voice to address injustice and promote equality. SublimeLuv is known for being an activist through her words. In 2020 she released her newest project, a visual chapbook, ROAR of a Lioness l Philosophy for the Queens. This visual chapbook is a loud proclamation of her personal story that has shaped her into who she is today. Through the visuals and poetry, she forms an intimate connection with those who listen to her words and view her masterwork. It speaks of challenges that many Black women face. ROAR of a Lioness l Philosophy for the Queens is a project that breathes transparency, and strives to inspire Black women globally. From her confidence in styling herself for this project to the rawness and authenticity flowing through every poem and visual, one can expect to feel a sense of liberation from this visual chapbook. SublimeLuv worked closely with Amir Now, Inc’s creative director, Amir Dixon and director of photography, Ryan Mahoney (@AmirNowInc) as well as the visual consultant, Thai Small (@theinsatiablemind) to produce this powerful masterpiece.
You are a multi-talented individual. It's evident that you wear many hats; can you tell us, who is SublimeLuv and what is the SublimeLuv Brand?
I have always been a poet. Poetry flowed naturally out of me as early as I could write sentences. At first, I didn’t even know there was a name for it when I was that young. I was given a journal when I was 10 years old and that solidified the start of my journey as a writer. I wrote about my feelings, using it as a diary, and poems formed from my daily writing.
I gave my very first spoken word performance at about 11 or 12. My mother asked me to do something for an event that she was hosting; so, I memorized and performed Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ poem. I felt the power of those words so deeply as I spoke them and I don’t remember being afraid. At 14, I wrote a poem titled ‘The Queen.’ The day I wrote it I read it to my mother and she didn’t believe it was my work. So, I thought to myself that I must be good.
"I've been writing since I was able to write as a kid. At 11 or 12 I performed 'Still I Rise' by Maya Angelou in front of a huge audience. Poetry has been a part of me for so long. It has saved my life in so many ways."
During my college years I would go to open mics and read my work. My confidence grew from there and I became more comfortable sharing my poems. I recognized performing as a coping mechanism and it started to feel therapeutic every time I got on stage. I named myself SublimeLuv in 2012 when I began to perform more often and memorize my work. My work embodies the theme of the personal as political. I exist in this world as a queer black woman with a mental illness. My life and experiences living in my body are often the fuel behind my poems.
Sublime means “supreme, outstanding.” I chose to spell l-o-v-e as l-u-v because I view Luv as a revolutionary tool. Luv signifies Black love, love for the oppressed, queer love, trans love, and disabled love. I believe that when we practice Luv, we are fiercely loving ourselves and each other no matter how worthy or unworthy we are deemed by society. Luv is activism and we need revolutionary Luv today.
SublimeLuv Brand was created as the umbrella that all of my creative work falls under. I am a teaching artist and I use poetry as a means of transformation for those that attend my workshops. I received my Makeup Artist Certificate in 2018 and I began my journey as a makeup artist, branding it, The Sublime Face. Beginning my journey as a makeup artist (MUA) was inspired by all the compliments I would receive from other artists during my performances. I would constantly get asked who did my makeup so I thought that working with makeup could be my genre of visual art. This year I started Sublime Style, a personal styling service that aligns with all that I am as a creative. SublimeLuv Brand is the name of my LLC. I became an official business in June of 2020. All my art is truly my passion which led me to take it seriously and make it my life’s work.
Amongst the many things you do, you mentioned being a teaching artist who facilitates workshops. Are there any major themes in your workshops? Do these themes intertwine with your poems?
My workshops vary greatly depending on who is hiring me and what their goals are for the participants. I have facilitated workshops where the goal was to get young people more comfortable with speaking and finding their voices. I do that through the lens of poetry as a vehicle where participants can get in touch with their voice. There are writing activities for them that they share with the group and build on. One of my favorite (and relatively new) workshop centers around the theme of personal history, power, and purpose. This workshop is guided by my poem ‘I Am From’ and I have the participants write their own version of it, using that as a means to explore their own stories. The goal is for them to claim the power of their story and how it can help them to get in touch with what their purpose may be.
Wow, that’s beautiful! What, if anything, has shaped who you are as a person and as a creative?
My experience being educated in public and private school systems have shaped me personally and artistically. I became an activist through words at an early age due to my contrasting experiences in those institutions. I attended Dana Hall School from 6th-11th grade. I left because I was tired of racism and daily microaggressions. When I transitioned back to public school to finish high school, I realized that my classmates there weren’t less intelligent than I was, they just didn’t reap the benefits of a private school education. My classmates in public school weren’t writing research papers at 11 like I had. Some of them were struggling academically and/or just not into school. They weren’t being given the necessary tools that are vital to ensure success at the College level.
I’ve learned how the public-school system is funded by property tax. Inequality became glaringly obvious and that is what led me to major in Sociology at Simmons University. Learning in depth about institutionalized and systematic oppression of people of the global majority changed my life and made my poetic material powerful, resistant, and full of Black pride. During my senior year in College, if you can Feel it, you can Speak it open mic was born out of the Boston Queer night life scene. This was my poetic home, the place where I literally grew into SublimeLuv. I was around poets (like D. Ruff and Jha D.) who memorized their work and seeing the difference between reading and performing poems memorized led me to memorize all of my best work. This took my Spoken Word career to new heights and I began to take it seriously as not just a hobby and art form, it became passionate work and my saving grace.
ROAR of a Lioness | Philosophy for the Queens, A Haunting
Photographer: Ryan Mahoney (@mrryanmahoney)
Costume Designer: R.K. Houston/New Urban Designs
So, you recently released your newest project, a visual chapbook, ROAR of a Lioness | Philosophy for the Queens. What inspired you to create this?
ROAR was inspired by Beyonce’s Lemonade which was released in 2016. Her visual album had glimpses of poetry in it which sparked my desire to create videos to illustrate my poetry. Most of the poems in ROAR weren’t even written at that time but I knew how transformative poetry set to visuals could be. I felt that it would be an innovative concept for Spoken Word, being that it would tell a compelling and cohesive poetic story through visuals.
What was your vision behind ROAR of a Lioness l Philosophy for the Queens? What message(s) were you hoping to convey?
My story as told through poetry in ROAR touches intimately, and overlaps, with many of the struggles we all battle against as Black women. My words are powerfully dedicated with Luv to my fellow Queens. My wish for this project is that it impacts my sisters; that it supports Black women existing confidently as the Goddesses we are while giving us the strength to laugh in the faces of those that tell us we aren’t sacred.
"It's an intimate address to what we all know to be true issues within our culture being brought to the forefront. I want ROAR to create dialogue, be a catalyst of awareness and change."
ROAR of a Lioness l Philosophy for the Queens is a captivating title choice, why did you decide to give your visual chapbook this title?
The title Roar of a Lioness is the release into the world, the scream, war cry, and loud proclamation of my personal history that has made me all that I am today. It is also the title of my self-published chapbook that was released in 2015. Why I chose to include Philosophy for the Queens in the title is to intentionally inspire Black women across the globe. We are divine beings that carry the collective burdens of racism, sexism, featurism, and colorism. Some of us are queer and that comes with the burden of homophobia. Some of us are trans and that comes with the burden of transphobia. Some of us are disabled and that comes with the burden of ableism.
The main themes in ROAR revolve around my personal story as political. The topics of personal history and its ties to our power and purpose, internalized oppression, and mental health are not only major components of my story but our collective stories as Black women. It's an intimate address to what we all know to be true issues within our culture being brought to the forefront. I want ROAR to create dialogue, to be a catalyst of awareness and transformation that creates a shift in our ideologies.
"The main themes in ROAR revolve around my personal story as political. The topics of personal history and its ties to our power and purpose, internalized oppression, and mental health are not only major components of my story but also our collective stories as Black women."
If you have a writing process, was this process the same when creating the poems for this visual chapbook?
Honestly, I always find this a difficult question to answer. Lol. My writing process is super random and ranges from being inspired by something to challenging myself to write more often. When the possibility to film ROAR became a reality in the summer of 2020, I already knew most of the poems I would include in it. A vision came to me in 2019 of how I wanted the poetic story to flow and where some locations would be. Most of the poems in ROAR were born from two emotions, powerful anger and/or powerful love. I wrote the poems in ROAR over a long span of time and the most recent ones came from my growth as an artist. I have grown to write more concise poems over the last few years that are powerful and thought provoking without being overwhelming for the audience to consume.
ROAR of a Lioness l Philosophy for the Queens breaths creativity in all aspects! The words and the visuals really grab your attention and evokes emotion. Did you intentionally use symbolism in this visual chapbook? If so, can you give us an example?
Most definitely. Symbolism was everywhere and in every visual. It would be too long to mention them all so I’ll start with some major ones that may or may not have been obvious to the audience. The first visual set to my ‘Introduction’ poem opens up with a Black Lives Matter scene of demonstrators holding up signs and law enforcement. The first words say “when they see me coming, they know it’s me/I walk, talk, and breathe poetry.” This alludes to the fact that Black people are marked targets of hate and discrimination due to our melanated skin. Our skin is what oppressors view as a weapon; we are threats even when innocent of any crime. Our skin is evident, even from a distance. We are true poetry, the living descendants of royalty and the first human beings to walk the Earth. The world does not move without Black creativity and culture.
‘What’s In A Name’ was filmed at Faneuil Hall/Quincy Marketplace. The poem starts with “I wish my name was harder to pronounce.” Slaves were sold there and their original names were stolen from them. My name, Amber, is extremely easy to say and spell; it isn’t a culturally rich name that marks me as non-white. It is what gets me the interview and then the “Oh, YOU’RE Amber!” comment from the hiring manager. I truly would love to have a name that makes oppressors work for it. I want those with names that are deemed “hard to pronounce '' confident and proud of their names. I want them to know that you must make people say it right.
There is endless symbolism in ROAR so get in touch with me if you’d like to know more of them!
Are there any other projects that you are working on? What should we look forward to from SublimeLuv?
I am currently working on a few projects that are centered around the major themes in ROAR. They will all be unveiled over the next few months so definitely stay tuned! I know ROAR will live long past me and take on a life of its own. I’m in the process of ensuring that this will be a legacy project. It truly is bigger than me. I am so excited about what is coming!
We are looking forward to what you have in store for us. Do you have any last words of encouragement that you would like to share?
I want people, especially artists, to know that your work is important and to never give up on creating. If you don’t get an outpouring of love on social media just know that people are seeing you, you are branding yourself with what you do and create so keep sharing no matter what. Please get rid of the spirit of comparison to others and competition. You aren’t anyone else and that is why your work is special. There are so many talented artists out there and even if they produce similar work and speak to a similar audience, your style will set you apart. Be yourself and stand tall within the power of your unique story. How many companies are selling bread in the bread aisle? I don’t see any of them going out of business. Vibe on the frequency of the fact that there is enough sun for everyone and you are your only competition. Strive to evolve into a better person, artist, human every day that you are gifted with life.
If you haven't already done so, be sure to head over to SublimeLuv’s website to view ROAR of a Lioness l Philosophy for the Queens and connect with her on social media to stay up to date with her future projects: