In Conversation – Hawa and Tonia of Browntourage

Browntourage is a crew, an online magazine, creative agency, and online gallery devoted to diversity in aesthetics and the conscious consumption and production of culture. Here Judith talks to its founders, Hawa and Tonia.

Judith Jones

September 17, 2014 | The Coffee Table Book | Fall 2014

Hawa and Tonia

What is Browntourage?

Hawa and Tonia: Browntourage is our crew. We run an online magazine, creative agency, and online gallery devoted to diversity in aesthetics and the conscious consumption and production of culture. It’s also a hashtag for all our down browns out there :P

How did you two meet and when did you decide to create Browntourage?

H and T: We met at the end of our college years on an improv and sketch comedy team! After graduating, we both moved to San Francisco and became better friends while figuring out our social lives there. Going out to shows and events together, we would stick out because of our skin and brains so we decided to rep Browntourage initially to announce our presence and willingness to collaborate and from there the blog and gallery and creative projects eventually came up.

I recall the first time I discovered Browntourage thinking how clever it was. What is the story behind the name?

H and T: One night we accompanied some friends from our old comedy team who were playing piano at this speakeasy full of financial district suits and a drag queen bartender who made the best Elizabeth Taylor (tequila cocktail) ever. The only brown dude in the room was trying to mentor us and said we should party with him and be his *harem.* We did a double take and responded with “no we’ll be your browntourage” as a way to demand respect without burning bridges. And thus was born the crew committed to challenging assumptions about brownness, gender, sexuality, etc. all while knowing how to have a good time.

When “challenging assumptions about brownness, gender, sexuality, etc.”, how does your identity as woman of color position you or influence your work in creative spaces?

H: I definitely feel like there have been many situations where I wasn’t taken seriously, was seen as a “groupie” (lol that a reporter connected with Browntourage on helping her figure out an article on groupies), or disempowered. I do feel like it’s been a little bit harder to prove myself in creative spaces because of those assumptions, but at the same time I’ve worked really hard to feel empowered by my identity to bring a perspective that not a lot of people have. Particularly when it comes to projects where we need to talk about social consciousness, how we’re framing certain things- I try to create from the space of wanting to feel liberated from a lot of the oppressive parts of culture.

T: I used to use creative work as therapy and escape and didn’t really start merging it with intentional critical conversations until Browntourage. When we try to slip serious stuff into conversation, being smart fun women of color can help us code shift, but it varies by the situation. Some dudes won’t want to work with us unless you are trying to hook up, some brown folks will trust us more because we are women of color, etc. etc. But you can’t just be brown, you also gotta be DOWN.


Do you both have specific roles within the collective of Browntourage or do ya’ll collaborate on projects?

H: Both. We bring different elements to the table- Tonia is really good at hype writing and I’m good with narrative. We both conceptualize projects and produce stuff together/separately and I know I can say I’ve learned so much working with her that I feel like we exponentially heighten each other’s strongest qualities. I try to keep up with interviews and recruiting contributors and Tonia manages the online gallery Konversation. But we both kinda do it all.

T: Ayyy hype writing – aka if you want to sound like a twitter tween party – I GOTCHU. Yeah, I have an internet and debate background and Hawa has a journalism and photography background so I usually like to strategize, code, and edit footage for projects, but when we come up with a concept together Hawa is the one to then make it sound amazing on paper and in person, direct the sickest shots, manage events etc. We really do complement each other. The URL v. IRL, frontend v. backend, who’s Wayne and who’s Garth, though?

Do you both have independent projects going on parallel to Browntourage and if so is the subject matter similar?

H: Currently I’m working on MAS#ALLAH, a project dedicated to the contemporary Middle Eastern experience. It isn’t limited to Middle Easten folks, it’s sort of a platform of visibility and collaboration, to affirm and praise each other in the diaspora. It’s definitely informed by a lot of the work we’ve done via Browntourage as far as wanting to make visible the stories of people we admire, highlight alternative paths to what we and society perceives as “success” and just creating more poc spaces.

T: Browntourage is what I do with my spare time, and if I want to do my own project I usually try to find a way to work it into browntourage. Konversation helps a lot with that. It’s an online gallery Hawa and I came up with to practice creating, and get thinking about concepts. We choose a random word as a topic and have 2 weeks to create something in response. It changes every two weeks or so, and we invite a guest to join us each time. It’s a very open to any subject matter and an experimental way to get the rest of my energy out.

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photos courtesy hawa & tonia

Judith Jones is a full time student and part time artist. She is a political science major minoring in women’s studies at Agnes Scott College. When she isn’t writing she dabbles in DIY projects, painting or blogging at her confused style blog, Simple But Chic.

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