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Pirate Woman
by Ayana Byrd
photographs by Lou Freeman
Honey Magazine, Issue 1, 1999.

There is the power to seduce. To intimidate. And to intrigue.

So while this is not quite the story of an icon reclaimed, nor of a former teen star's struggle back into the world of celebrity, it is a glimpse into the life of one such powerful woman - Miss Lisa Bonet. Former Cosby kid, ex-wife of Lenny Kravitz, mother of Zoe, renegade.

Fifteen years ago, with her dreamily distracted voice and intensely cool but mesmerizing gaze, bonet captured our collective conscience. As Denise Huxtable, the second-born child to one of America's most-loved television families, she infused much of her real personality into her character. She was forthright and boldly eccentirc.

When Bonet and I sat down recently to touch a little on those things she considered sacred, she began by making it clear that she is a woman who lives in the here-and-now - not ever denying her past - but refusing to live in it. Today she resides (along with her darling 10-year-old daughter) somewhat reclusively in the beautiful mountains of Topanga, California - worlds away from the Brooklyn studios where The Cosby Show was taped.

"Everyone has their story," she begins,"Everyone has issues. things have happened, but you have to face your fears." She pauses, "Its from our sufferings that we form our consciousness."

Bonet's consciousness seemed to form before a mass culture which passed high-handed moral judgements. It was the reagan 80s and Bonet was a black girl evolving into a black woman, and as such, she was graded rather harshly for destroying the sanctity of her innocent TV image. At a time Tracy Chapman, another uncategorizable icon, was singing about revolution, Bonet was waging her own. It wasn't so much that she threw her sensuality in the rigid face of the era's sexual norms, as it was she seemed delightfully unimpressed with the rules. With a stricken Bill Cosby watching from the sidelines, young Bonet starred in the originally X-rated Angel Heart, appeared nude in Rolling Stone, married a musician named Romeo Blue (aka Lenny Kravitz), became pregnant and dared, throughout it all, to appear genuinely happy.

And then, in true Scorpio fashion, she was out. "Having Zoe saved my life," she explains, "It was my wake up call [about growing up.] There were so many things I didn't want to pass on to herso I really made a decision to change [into a better person]."

After a dismissal from Cosby before the show entered its final season, ("[The Cosby years] were a major part of my life," she remarks. "But it is the past; I don't really concentrate on it."), Bonet retreated from the spotlight. "It wasn't really a choice," she explains. "That industry expects you to prove yourself over and over again. Do I stay doing this, or do I raise my daughter and live surrounded by people who love me? Wasn't even really a choice."

But that was about eight years ago, around the same time she began to seriously practice yoga with instructor Anna Forest, who combines Hatha and Ashtanga techniques. And it was the strength that arose from this, she used to pull the outer strings of her life together. " An instructor once told me that when there's resistence in your body, it's only because of the resistence in your mind. And it's not the pose. It's not a competition - Who's the most flexible? Who can do the pose? [That's] the superficial part. It's about getting inside the pose Being the breath"

Indeed, Bonet has woven a good deal of theory into her rebellious speak. And her "flower child" persona has taken on a more sophisticated shape than we remember. Shoulder-length dreadlocks have been growing for three years, and her tattoo-adorned, svelte body (the newest, a snake on her wrist below an older image of notorious goddess Medusa), is a testament to her discipline. Of course, she still sports a nose ring.

A modern day muse, Bonet's being inspired best friend Cree Summer (A Different World's Freddie Brooks) and ex-husband Kravitz to write the song "Miss Moon" for her. This, after Kravitz penned an entire album about their love in 1989 (Let Love Rule), the year they were married, and another in 1991, the year they divorced, about his desire to have her back (Mama Said).

But whatever one's pre-concieved notions about Bonet's starcrossed love affair or her seductive style, she is still a chocolate-eating, Disneyland-visiting mom. Yes, Zoe inherited her mother's sweet tooth, but has her own penchant for Top 40 (her favorite song of the moment is Mariah Carey's "Sweetheart"). Their mother-daughter bond is undeniable - it was Zoe who steadfastly held her mama's hand to distract from the pain of the aforementioned tattoo. As for Bonet and Kravitz , they are still friends and occasional lyrical collaborators eternally connected by their child and their past. However, on the specifics, Bonet is completely private.

In the latest Will Smith blockbuster, Enemy of the State, Bonet plays ex-girlfriend/current confidante Rachel Banks. But if it appears asif she is poised for a commercial comeback, don't bet on it. While admitting that the film was "fun", she has her own plans that aren't likely to be backed by a big studio. "We're getting ready to take over the world," she matter-of-factly reveals. We? "My group of girl friends - we call ourselves 'the pirates.' Because we're renegades.

"I'm writing a film," she continues." And there's Cree's album. With our art and access to these powerful media [of television, film and music] we're going to take over. because it's really disgusting what is put out there now to be consumed

"About three years ago, a group of us started a community center in Santa Monica. We've tried a lot of different programs and three have worked really well. A poetry group. A once a week we visit Venice High and talk to girls at risk. you know, [girls] looking at ninth grade for like, the forth time. We use a Native American tradition of the talking stick. You sit and pass it around and whoever has the stick has to talk. Some people just hold it. Others really share. And once a week we go to juvenile hall and talk to boys there. Just go and spend a day in the juvenile courts"

Bonet admits to being moved by the power of people, but she defines her relationship with the Creator uniquely. "My life is art. Its how I express God," she reveals. An avid reader, she dabbles with musical instruments and often secludes to write.

Its true what's been said about Lisa Bonet's commanding presence. After I left her, I wondered myself about her peculiar pirate jones. With little surprise, an early morning message from a familiar voice was left on my machine. It was her. She wanted to give further explaination about why she and her crew are pirates.

This was her offering:"Because like pirates, its from the deep waters that we come. And we are heartfelt and trecherous like those waters. We come with an unflinching devotion to the mystical and to God - representing life and embracing death." There was a pause, the laughter. "And, we are here to take over."

See Lisa through the lens of photographer Honey's contributing photographer Lou Freeman.

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