Reclaiming Venus is a multimodal project that tells the extraordinary story of Alvenia Bridges through an ethnographic memoir and a story map walking tour.
Genesis of the project
In 2014, while I was in New York City conducting fieldwork for my first book, Senegal Abroad, I rented a room from Alvenia Bridges. Soon after moving in Alvenia offered me tea, which gave me the chance to ask her about her name on Mick Jagger’s (1985) platinum “She’s the Boss” album hanging up in her living room. She told me an incredible story about her time as personal business liaison to Mick Jagger before launching into her career as a model and deejay in late 1960s Italy. This moment of cordial chitchat morphed into nightly sessions of storytelling that I audiorecorded so her voicecould be preserved. Upon my departure, she intimated how her dream had always been to share her story with the world. Our ethnographic memoir-in-progress, Reclaiming Venus: The Many Lives of Alvenia Bridges, is the culmination of this commitment to her. However, because of the nature of her story—the audiovisual richness of musical sounds and artistic images—as well as the depth and breadth of our living archive, which includes over 40 hours of interviews, 200 photographs from her life, and countless pieces of memorabilia, we realize the story we want to tell should not be contained in just one medium. By exploring polyvocality and different genres of storytelling, we can reach a wider audience. As such, our project consists of the memoir and a story map walking tour titled Reclaiming Venus: In the City the Never Sleeps.
Through her personal journey Alvenia has crossed paths with a wide variety of people in the music and fashion industries, from long-term working relationships with Roberta Flack, Mick Jagger, and Bill Graham to momentary yet extraordinary encounters with Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Prince, and Tina Turner to personal and professional interactions with Jerry Hall, Antonio Lopez, and Francesco Scavullo. However, the value of Alvenia’s story goes beyond the unique perspective she affords us through her thoughtful, introspective, and poignant glimpses into the lives of people who have captured the world’s imagination. Born in 1944, she also provides insight into what it took to go from growing up as a poor, abused, black girl in midcentury segregated Kansas where one of her most formative experiences was unsuccessfully integrating the all-white public school in her district to successfully navigating the predominantly white and male-run worlds of fashion and Rock and Roll. While the racially oppressive environment of her childhood in Kansas restricted her movements, her unflappable resolve and uncanny ability to create opportunities for herself demonstrated her impressive mobility in the face of societal constraints. From a chance encounter with Austrian Baron and race car driver John Von Neumann that jumpstarted her modeling career in Europe to her years as tour manager for famous musicians and to her own fledgling music career that faltered with the sudden death of promoter Bill Graham, Alvenia has forged a path that reads like a work of fiction.
Through Alvenia’s riveting narrative—seen from different angles through this multimodal project—music fans and connoisseurs of global fashion gain eye-opening insight into the entertainment industry. While big-name celebrities have always influenced our understandings of this industry, Alvenia’s unique and understated perspective is crucial in fleshing out pop culture history. Our project thus celebrates the people who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that fans and consumers enjoy the cultural offerings of the world’s biggest stars.