Photo Courtesy of Herban Cura.

Connect with the plant behind the commodity! Join New York-based education platform and artist collective Herban Cura for knowledge-shares about sugar and coffee—active matter often consumed as fuel for productivity. As two of the most globally commodified plants, sugar and coffee have been taken out of their original ecologies, often in ways that perpetuate violence against the plants as well as their human stewards, the many peoples who have been impacted by colonization across the globe. Even as colonial violence persists, many living practices that depend on plant-people relations continue to exist and evolve.

In one knowledge-share, you can explore coffee through a traditional roasting and sipping ceremony from the Ethiopian tradition offered by Tigist Kelkay. In the other, Christine Brooks will guide you through pressing fresh sugar cane to taste on site while looking at different ways in which this plant has been refined and commodified.

Herban Cura, curated by Antonia Estela Pérez, Sebastián Pérez, and Em McCann Zauder, seeks to create access to ancestral and plant wisdom—both through the rematriation of Indigenous life-ways and through remembrance and reclamation of how to live in solidarity with the earth and with our human and more-than-human kin.

Event organized by guest curator Kristen Joy Owens.

Proof of COVID vaccination, photo ID, and the use of masks are required of all visitors to BGC Gallery. Please see our visitor policies for all up-to-date COVID policies.

We are also pleased to extend complimentary need-based community tickets by request to all ticketed events. To learn more, please email [email protected].

Kristen J. Owens
Kristen J. Owens is a curator whose interdisciplinary research, writing and curatorial work is situated in African American and Black Diasporic studies. Her research interests include: Black visual culture, Black contemporary art, photography studies, fashion studies, and performance studies. Owens holds an MA in visual culture: costume studies and an MS in library and information science from New York University’s dual degree program with Long Island University and a BA in fashion studies from Montclair State University.

Herban Cura
About Herban Cura

Through Herban Cura we seek to create access to ancestral wisdom—both through the rematriation of indigenous life-ways and also through remembrance and reclamation of how to live in solidarity with the earth and with our human and more-than-human kin. We believe this knowledge puts us on the path to healing by remembering what it means to be in direct and balanced relationship to the plants and more-than-human beings that cohabitate with us on the land.

We understand this work of remembrance and reclamation to be decolonizing and abolition work. This work is in service to dismantling white supremacy, settler-colonial logics, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, and human supremacy wherever it lives in us and within our communities.

Our educational offerings of knowledge shares and immersions provide a forum for exploration of healing traditions, practices, and relationships from diverse cultural and ecological contexts, with content ranging from demonstration of applied skills and preparation of foods and remedies, to people’s histories and cosmologies, all presented as interwoven diasporic legacies. We prioritize and center Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and queer and trans facilitators and participants.

Our product offerings contain crafts that are embodiments of the knowledge and wisdom we have received from our human and plant ancestors, and which continue to be explored and modulated through our interdisciplinary art practice.


Antonia Estela Pérez (they/she)
Herban Cura Program Director, Communications, Medicine Crafting, Co-Founder

Antonia Estela Pérez is a clinical herbalist, gardener, artist and co-founder of collectives Brujas and Herban Cura. They are first-generation, born and raised in New York City (Lenape territory). Descended from Mapuche peoples of Chile, their practice is rooted in their cultural lineage and is deeply informed by apprenticeships with herbalists in the Northeast, Central and South America, and Thailand.

Antonia has a background in community work, and they have been a community organizer, gardener, and food and environmental justice educator for more than a decade. They have a BA in environmental and urban studies from Bard College. They are passionate about sharing their knowledge with other folks, especially in urban centers, in order to interrupt notions of individualism and separatism from nature and grow towards collaborative and symbiotic communities.


Sebastián Nicolás Pérez (he/they)
Herban Cura Director of Innovations, Chief Financial Officer, Translations Manager

Sebastián Nicolás Pérez is a New York City native of Chilean ancestry. He is a passionate educator with teaching and learning experience in mathematics, hatha yoga, qi gong, somatic movement, and music.

Sebastián’s background is deeply interdisciplinary. After majoring in biomedicine in high school, he pursued a BA in economics at City College of New York (CCNY). Two years into the program he simultaneously began the Jazz Performance Program for guitar, also at CCNY. Thereafter, he pursued his yoga teacher training and permaculture design certification. Sebastián also studied in the master’s program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he focused on environmental psychology and social theory.

The diversity in educational pursuits is a result of a lifelong commitment to searching for deeper levels of freedom through self knowledge and expansion. More recently, Sebastián has pursued various musical projects under the name Aya Yai, taught math at LaGuardia Community College, and developed his knowledge and practice in dance, body work, and somatic movement therapies.


Em L. McCann (she/her)
Herban Cura Creative Director, Photo Editor, Technology Manager

Em is a white, queer, non-zionist Jewish creator of Ashkenazi descent, born and raised as a settler on unceded Lenape and Mahican territories. She lives and creates on Coast Miwok, Timucua, and Mahican territories.

Her work is a prayer, focusing primarily on the expression of gender, care, and vulnerability, with an emphasis on connection with the more-than human world. She walks with a strong commitment to engaging and alchemizing inherited and embodied systems of oppression toward our collective liberation.

Her work is in the realms of art (BA in photography, Bard College), interspecies and nature connection (Weaving Earth), wildlife tracking (Wilderness Awareness School), diasporic Jewish ritual practice, and botanical dyes.


Tigist Kelkay of Addistopia

Tigist is a creative—trained as an architect, now a designer working across media. She is a mother, wife, entrepreneur, cancer survivor, and life-long learner who arrived in the US from Ethiopia in 2007, ready for a new life in a new home.

She comes from a family of entrepreneurs who built thriving businesses from the very bottom. Her parents, now in their late 60s and 70s, are still going strong in their very imaginative journey of entrepreneurship. Tigist is the creative force behind several ventures: offering visual communications and design for mission-centered, socially conscious, and impact-driven organizations; apparel celebrating leaders and moments in Ethiopian history and the African diaspora; and a curated portfolio of artwork and crafts, from women weavers and makers in Addis Ababa.

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Tigist was always surrounded by works of skilled artisans—weavers, potters, and jewelers. With a mission of preserving Ethiopian indigenous cultures and traditions, Tigist formed Addistopia X HaizoGoods. This initiative offers immersive coffee ritual experiences and curated exhibits of handmade items, from everyday utilitarian objects such as coffee pots and wonderfully soft and warm cotton blankets to decorative items. Through this journey, Tigist is so proud to highlight the works of women artisans and collaborate with collectives dedicated to fair and equitable employment.

Tigist is also the founder of YolkWorks, a visual communication studio. YolkWorks partners with clients engaged in critical work such as combating climate change, fostering entrepreneurship in underserved communities, protecting voter rights, fighting human trafficking, advocating for sexually abused youth, advancing policy changes on the use of technology as a tool for surveillance, and reimagining childhood education. YolkWorks is also proud to donate their talent and time to grassroots initiatives that support communities of color here in the U.S. as well as in Ethiopia.

Tigist is a supporter of social justice movements, and she is especially passionate about gender and racial justice, human rights, and our impact on the environment. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and their beautiful dog, Snowy.
Knowledge Shares
Ethiopian Coffee Ritual with Tigist Kelkay

An invitation to a visceral experience offering a window to take time and find slowness in everyday life and magic in familiar moments.

The famed Ethiopian coffee ritual is an experience for all the senses. Conversation flowing, the aroma and sound of the roasting beans, the wafting of burning incense, passing tiny cups full of the precious liquid while being careful not to spill any of it, and that first sip that erases all fatigue and worries.

Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia growing wild, many centuries ago. As the birthplace of coffee, the ritual of preparing it has reached a fine point. Rituals can last for hours as the coffee (buna) is roasted, ground, brewed, and drunk. It is an essential safe place for the young and the old to meet, where topics such as politics, community, and gossip are discussed.


A Meditation on Sugarcane, Sweetness, and History with Christine Brooks

An invitation to trace the social and political trajectory of sugarcane as a medicine, food, and commodity,and to understand and recall right relationship with sweetness as our birthright.

In plants, sugars are energy. Many of the medicinal plants whose powers are held in roots we know to harvest in the fall, after plants have sent their energy back into the ground. Polysaccharides, powerful, immuno-modulating compounds found in everything from medicinal mushrooms to marshmallow root, are long chains of sugars that are water-soluble, moistening and nourish the immune system.

This offering will be a both/and exploration of the physiology of sweetness, molecular impact of white sugar in our bodies and an attempt to hold the notion of sweetness as our birthright. We will endeavor to hold consciousness of the problematic ways that sugar has shaped our relationships with our bodies and the earth alongside a rich treatment of the plant itself. We will explore how we can celebrate sugarcane and reach toward nourishment without becoming consumed by the plant in its simplest form.