Solange Knowles for Harper’s Bazaar

Solange Knowles: Reflections on Stillness, Joy, and the Year That Changed Everything

The year 2020 has been both destructive and transformative. A roiling pandemic has isolated and divided us. The killings of a seemingly never-ending list of Black Americans—killed out in broad daylight or even sleeping in their own homes—have once more brought a reckoning over racism and racial justice into the forefront of the American consciousness. The toll it's taken has come in devastating ripples, first in human lives, then on our collective livelihood—the blow it's dealt to commerce and art has been a cruel one-two punch. As night falls earlier and longer, and a contentious election looms, it can all feel so…dark.

And yet, we've seen light—resilience and intergenerational collaboration in the name of fighting the good fight. (Or as the late Rep. John Lewis would have said, "Getting into good trouble.") If the moral arc of history bends towards justice, these are the people applying the pressure. We've seen grocers and delivery people and mail carriers become frontline workers; doctors and caregivers and scientists become our guiding stars. We've seen entrepreneurs and artists innovate to survive. (See: the latest offerings of a pared-down but no less creative Fashion Month.) There is still, amid our confusion and anxiety, joy.

Like all of us, musician and artist Solange Knowles has been trying to make sense of these strange and conflicting times. So we invited her to do so here, in her very own Harper's BAZAAR digital cover. She styled herself from a hand-selected roster of all-independent, majority-BIPOC designers; she tapped friend and collaborator Naima Green to help photograph her in isolation; and for her cover story, she shares a series of powerful personal essays and poems that lay bare the private challenges and collective pain, the hard-won triumphs, and, yes, the joy that propels us all ever-forward.

Stillness is goodness.

Ghost catch up. There's nowhere to run, and all the voices you've been hushing, soothing, and cooing yell at you like loud children demanding answers.

The ones you've been saying you'd tend to when the time is right tell you there is no other time.

Then your body follows.

And for a minute there, things can get hard.

And every day you make a choice. To honor, listen, and live.

I once drove across the country watching the landscape change as much as my thoughts.

The moving made me feel more at home than I had been feeling in a long while.

I grew up in tour buses watching flashing images out of tiny windows in my bunk, never still enough to memorize names or street signs. Then came the house in Idaho, Houston, back to Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans. Summers in Dakar, Thanksgivings in Jamaica. Movement has been my Holy Ghost.

For a while there was a Big Bang! I was floating and jumping and coasting and cartwheeling and cruising and gleaming, fingers and toes spread wide, palms facing the light, heart beating in cursive. I was jumping in rivers and dancing on tree trunks. It was the most glorious of all my days. 

But again, Ghost catch up. And deep, old memories I had stored in hidden parts of myself for decades wouldn’t just stay in my shoulders, or ribs, or chest breaths, or blood test anymore. They came out, and they came out swinging. 

Most of the work I’ve made has been about knowing where you’ve been to know where you're going. Knowing whoyou’ve been to know who you are becoming. Going home—deep home, past homes, mother's home, father's home—to define home. I had answered these questions for myself and that felt good, but I had omitted truths that I just couldn’t stand to make a part of myhome. They didn’t belong in my kitchen, or closets, or even in a shoebox under my bed.

My stillness started with my body. It refused to be, to go. I’d look to moss trees asking for answers as if they could talk back to me.

I heard a voice saying you deserve joy. Applause from my loved ones and heroes wasn’t gonna do.

Another voice, a critical one, said you got a lot of nerve chasing joy and freedom when you already have so much, but I went for it anyway.

I honored, listened, and lived.

Some days were a real pain in the ass. Some were the most beautiful days of my life. This was a different kind of joy. I didn’t need to skip in the sun to feel it. Joy was the sleep I got after releasing secrets from my bones. Joy was telling the truth. Joy was making a song that I didn’t care ever saw the light of day. Joy was taking a trip alone, and just sitting and staring at the water and seeing my reflection and thinking to myself, Damn I'm fine. Joy was having nothing on my calendar, and choosing what to do with my time. Joy was having a friend who didn’t care how ugly I cried, always inviting and encouraging me to just be, however that looked that day. Joy was discovery. Joy was having someone show me beautiful worlds of their own and trusting in the journey. Joy was letting go of control. Joy was just sitting. Joy was seeing how far I had come and waving at my shadows. Joy was accepting that the work is never done, but that every day is a choice.

Soon I began to feel things that I never felt before. I began to understand who I was becoming outside of all of the many names I had been given and given myself. I began to love differently. See differently. Seek differently. I began to surrender to the work never being done, but finding joy in that there was room for it all.

I cleared my schedule and took time off from everything else to continue this devotion to the work. 

And then we all had to confront stillness. To collectively honor, to listen, to survive

Some days I am on top of mountains. Some days I am weary. Some days I smile and laugh in ways I didn’t know I could. Sometimes I grieve all of the loss, looking for pillars or anchors to hold on to. Some days I see so much promise in my future despite the chaos around me because I woke up a Black woman with this spirit in my heart. If I move, I am not running. If I move, it is by choice. I feel good knowing that I surrendered and found answers in my stillness.

When I see these two Harper's BAZAARcovers, I see the duality of me in these moments. I feel a lot of freedom in not having to chose to exist as one. 

This past May, I jotted down a little jingle to sing when the going gets rough:

"Doing the work sure ain't pretty, it's like tearing down and rebuilding whole damn cities"

I never sing it, but knowing it exists is enough.

09 – 01

Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.


This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places.

— Derek Walcott

01 – 14

There is a lot of allure in the art of mystery. In the seductive power of the unknown. The whisper instead of the yell.

The shadow instead of the figure. The veil never quite lifting. But I am ready to be seen. My silhouette is not enough.

My body is not just a vessel, it is truth. It is living, breathing, alive and well. What will you do with her?

04 – 25

I've been hanging my clothes on clotheslines, wondering if they will tell me their secrets. If I can air out their demons. If the water from the ends of hemlines can give breath to the grass it arrives on. Making a ritual of hand washing my silks in cold water. I watched a movie about this very thing. How you shouldn't leave your sheets out overnight because spirits might jump into 'em and now u sleeping with a ghost who doesn't even belong to you.

04 – 08

I was raised by a beauty salon.

My mother loved me a million different ways. One of the ways my mother loved me was by surrounding me with many a tribe who could care for me; my mom's deliberate choice to make "the shop" my after school care. 

All of the women had their own stories to tell. Women from every background, name, and face in Houston, Texas came to transform within the safety of themselves. Boyfriends and husbands waited in their cars or in the front reception, and women ran the show. They talked shit, cackled, shrieked, cried, or read and contemplated quietly—thrilled to escape their lives as mothers, sisters, teachers, and healers. Regulars would greet me with a big hug and ask me how school was, to get them a glass of wine from the back, or ask me to show them the latest dances. I took dance classes weekly, but it was in that shot that performance really began. The theater of the shop and I. It was there that my storytelling became more vivid, elaborate, and exaggerated! It was there that my gestures became language. I watched and studied my favorite women—the way they walked, dressed, moved their nails when they turned pages. They paid attention to me, celebrated me, and always made me feel safe. My dances soon turned into monologues, and soundtracks soon followed. It was there that performance thrived and became alive. It was there. The shop became my theater. I was raised by a beauty salon.

05 – 22

The hardest lessons to learn are the longest to learn

Are the ones that chew you up

Spit you out

Make you crawl

Eat you alive

Grit your teeth

Wrench your guts

And then make you repeat seven times for good luck and riddance.

09 – 01

Showed up to the Jill and Badu battle, red wine in hand

Friends on Zoom

Thinking 'bout the balm that is waking up in this Black woman body and clicking this Black woman's tongue on the roof of this Black woman's mouth

Wouldn't want it any other way.

Showed up to the Babyface joint

Thinking 'bout my mama's warm love and my mama's past pain, and all the ways I took both on, singing each one of those songs on car radios like they were my own stories to tell.

Showed up to the Brandy and Monica battle

Thinking 'bout what it means to sacrifice and devote so much of your life to your gifts and how much appreciation we pay forward to being on the receiving end.

06 – 05

A letter to an unnamed friend:

I have so much more I want to say, but I'll start with: I want to thank u for energetically holding me accountable. You have said nothing, but I feel it following me like a shadow.

This past few months it's been really important to me to go inward and recognize the ways I haven't always shown up as my best or most graceful self. To not point this finger of mine so much at others, but take those same fingers to grip a mirror up to myself.

Reflecting on the ways I could have shown more grace and compassion. Been more thoughtful.

I am thankful to have a friend like you.

Friends who say something and friends who say nothing, but even the thought of their presence makes me feel everything.

04 – 21

Something about your kindness, patience, and love for me makes me want to be a more kind, loving, and patient woman. Thank you. For the growth. For the stretching. For the remaining of the same. For the parts of me that were dormant that have now been awakened. For the joy. For the rain. For giving me seeds I want to water.

We planted the soil 

the root and the pain

We lied in the bass of the earth

Went to the center 

the core 

like a pulp 

Veena like a vein—I'll never forget locking hands and fingers and nails and the lines in our palms trying to touch all the feelings like show and tell 

feel and say 

Everything and nothing at all 

06 – 13

So many house sounds

Voices speaking through ice machines and faucets and air conditioners

Couches on curbs waiting for hugs

Saying pick me up, don't nobody want me no more.

06 – 21

i cry for our pain

for our protection

for every forgotten moment we feel robbed of in life

for the abuse we endure

for our sickness and loss of health

for the way the trauma kills us when our oppressors and our own men don't

for our healing journeys

for the way we rise for one another when we can't do the lifting on our own

05 – 23


Today, I affirm, will be a beautiful day

I will look for the good in all things

I will look for the love in all corners of time

I will listen to myself and be okay with the discomfort, but never let fear lead me

I will be a loving and patient mom

I will replace feelings of doubt with feelings of love

I will breathe

09 – 08

I've been thinking a lot about the importance of honoring, uplifting, and preserving Black collections.

Like a collection of every Telfar Bag ever made, stored and left untouched.

In 30 years, what will they say about 2020? About us? 

What will me granddaughters feel about them? 

What does it mean to be a designer right now?

In a world that's barely making it, where the spirit of survival is all around us.

When the ritual of dressing up can literally shift how we see ourselves in the moment, and express beauty which in return makes us project more beauty into the world.

When we are living on survival, why would we reach for that beauty?

When we live in such an uncertain world, how do we reach for that beauty?

How do designers stay inspired to create during the chaos of that uncertainty?

What will they reach for and how will they express it?

08 – 14

Today in therapy I continue to practice speaking to my inner child. That shit is so fucking hard!

She is deeply wounded by painful messages from the outside world. So deeply hurt and tired of "turning the other cheek" and being strong. Trying to reconcile that the judgements on her life are really a reflection of others' own internal judgements and don’t belong to her. 

I send love to every child who so publicly has had to endure such painful criticism out in the world when they are already internalizing it amongst the spaces and people that should make them feel safe.


we talked about rice for what felt like hours

grains and the sketches of faces that each one takes on

we see our mothers

we hear their voices and all the ways they speak to us 

hug us

and yell at us to go to our rooms 

we feel the bottomless and the otherness of being so full there is nothing left 

there is no more room to eat

we see our land 

we feel the warmth in our bellies 

pass us more

pass us more 

for once, we never say if it's brown or white 

but there's a silence that says that it's ours

05 – 03

I truly hope that every Black spirit does whatever they need to do during this time to hold themselves up. Whatever it may look like. Honor your grief, however you are led to. Hold on and go all the way into your power, however it calls to you.

and yell at us to go to our rooms 

we feel the bottomless and the otherness of being so full there is nothing left 

there is no more room to eat

we see our land 

we feel the warmth in our bellies 

pass us more

pass us more 

for once, we never say if it's brown or white 

but there's a silence that says that it's ours

05 – 03

I truly hope that every Black spirit does whatever they need to do during this time to hold themselves up. Whatever it may look like. Honor your grief, however you are led to. Hold on and go all the way into your power, however it calls to you.

06 – 12

Don't you want to close your windows? 

— Thích Nhất Hạnh

09 – 17

I have burned a lot of bridges

Burned a lot of bridges for this moment right here

Moments that no one will ever see or hear about

So that I may be me

So that I may be free

And now for these moments

They give flowers and shoot confetti

But the bridges have been burnt

Soot and dust covers them

They are bridges no more

So I swim across waters

And that is much harder

But surely I get there just fine

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