Art is Good Medicine

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Those who know me well, know that I make art as a coping mechanism. I always have. These last few days/months/years have been traumatic for Black Americans, to say the very least, and even more so for Black women. Many of us suffer from deep depression, anger, and often, overwhelming feelings hopelessness. These feelings and their violent effects on our bodies block creativity, hinder productivity, and crush any will to get up in the morning (let alone make any renewed attempts to live). Can we just live?

As I’m tasked with completing a dissertation, an extremely isolating pursuit, lack of motivation and fear of failure plague me everyday regardless of what is going on out in the world or in the media. But it is these recent events’ particularly uncanny ability to debilitate and silence even some of our most vocal, our most brilliant, and our most passionate minds is what haunts me most. We are so tired. Before I too am completely silenced (spent), before I can no longer get up each morning to put fingers to keyboard, I try to create something out of this weight on my chest. So I can breathe. Art is the best medicine. So while I did not complete my current chapter draft last week, I did do this: I woke up. I got out of bed. Sometimes, I need to let that be enough.

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Strange Fruit

                           

Continuing on the thread of looking back (for me) and introducing you to some of my past work…I revisit another triptych from my undergraduate career titled: “Strange Fruit.”

This piece was inspired by the poem/song, Strange Fruit, as it was sung in 1939 by Billie Holliday. In this work I strove to push the concept of “strange fruit” in multiple directions. While this work is about lynching, it also is a space where I am simultaneously discussing my divided heritage as a biracial individual. Strange Fruit as Billie Holliday mournfully reflects is a direct metaphor for the lynched bodies of black people. In this piece try to position myself as a kind of Strange Fruit as well, as I attempt to navigate through my conflicting existence and tragic personal history as both the mob and its victims.

At the time of this work in 2007, I was interested in working through a deep critical analysis of my own personal identity and perhaps point to the complicated ways history and identity intersect on the body. I was then and still am interested in notions of a divided and/or multifaceted self and how certain divisions are in conflict AND communion with each other. Growing up I felt as thought was neither black nor white enough to be fully accepted into either community; always on the fringes I have been stretched and torn in ways that still affect how I look at myself and how I relate to others today.

This piece ultimately boils down to a three panel photo-paint collage on stretched canvas. The focal images are self-portraits taken using film that was then darkroom processed. The central canvas most literally depicts a kind of family tree, where photos of my family are transferred on to the painting itself. Each individual appears out of the bark as witnesses to a silent lynching, a ghost-like lynching. The rope hangs three-dimensional in thin air; each viewer of the piece becoming a spectator/ participant.  

Sometimes I have imaged myself as the victim to this particular lynching as my body grips and becomes the tree from which time cannot be erased. It haunts me that presumably most trees that have ever bore witness to such violent and heinous crimes still stand; beautiful bark, rings, and leaves stained with the blood of black people forever. Whether today I am regarded or self-situated as the mob or the victims of these atrocious spectacles; there will always be blood on these roots. Ultimately, this is what this piece is about. At once it becomes a memorial, a sight of acknowledging a lineage of participation and also mourning all those lost to lynching in a frighteningly not so distance past.

 Check out Billy Holliday’s song. It is as timeless as it is haunting.

Strange Fruit- Billy Holliday (click here)

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Revisiting “A Gentleman’s Genocide”

In May 2010 as I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at CU, Boulder I completed a short mixed-media film titled, A Gentleman’s Genocide. A course I took in my final year taught by Professor Luis Valdovino afforded me the opportunity to create a visual piece which incorporated my passion for paint, photography, and spoken word.

I revisit this piece now in this blog as I continue to think about the phenomenon of American patriotism and also its various continuities and disconnects from larger sociocultural and historic legacies of this nation. Within this work I take up the symbols of 3 distinct flags and a self-authored and performed spoken word narrative of genocide in order to create a complex space from which to engage in a dialogue around patriotism.

A Gentleman’s Genocide seeks to complicate common-sense notions and practice surrounding patriotism and various forms of country worship by firmly planting these sentiments and practices within a historical memory of trauma and genocide. America in many ways displays a kind of historical amnesia as it launches itself out of the past and into a future that refuses any critical, constructive or even generative re-membering.

As James Baldwin put it: “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”

Here I have decided to say something terrible and take the time to remember something longer and larger than our patriotic impulses.  Creatively, I have chosen to do so through the enticingly beautiful and horrifying imagery of these signs of bigotry, hatred, freedom, and pride which is always present and stitched into each flag.

*This short film is copyright protected, and the link embedded within this post is only a private and protected version of the original short film piece. PLEASE DO NOT copy or distribute this short film outside the context of this blog. For rights, viewing privileges, and access to fully edited and finalized version of this piece, please contact the author.