This proposed exhibition entitled, Too: An Orientation of Spirit focuses on my allyship with African Americans and the culpability in their oppression as a white American. The heart of the narrative of this exhibit is the word TOO which in this context means ALSO. It is the absent but implied word at the end of the statement, BLACK LIVES MATTER. One's ability to understand this small word’s presence resides in empathy: the centerpiece for our humanity and the orientation of spirit. TOO is the artistic lens woven throughout the exhibit.
My personal orientation of spirit and resulting
allyship began in 1979, which was the first year of my thirty-year profession as a public school teacher in an elementary school in a small town located in South Georgia. Thirty percent of my
class that year, and essentially every year for the next 29 years, were Black boys and girls. For five thousand four hundred days of my privileged life, I saw black children carrying the weight
of their identity shaped through oppression while trying to meet the educational standards of a school curriculum created by their oppressors. As their teacher and unknowing (at the time)
oppressor, I tried to help them bear their burden, even though I could never fathom the unceasing enormity of it.
The zeitgeist of the last four years has increased my reading of articles and books to increase my knowledge, sensitivity, and understanding of African American oppression. The research has increased my awareness of my privilege. It has also led me to the knowledge that empathy can be communicated through art, that art is a form of consciousness, a vehicle of communication. That the action of art is based on the fact that a person, receiving through the sense of sight an artist’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion that moved the artist who expressed it.
TOO: An Orientation of Spirit embraces the original premise (stated above) of art as a vehicle for empathy and utilizes the power of the narrative image to inspire understanding and compassion. My art is the means in which I honor my former students and communicate my desire to take on their struggle as my own.
The exhibition includes a 6’x17’ polyptych containing twenty-six 18”x18”oil canvases, an installation of twelve acrylic painted canvases (20”x20”, 24”x20”), twenty-six watercolor portraits (10”x8”, 16”x12”, and 20”x16”), and eleven oil paintings (six: 30”x40” five: 24”x18” to 36”x24”).
Each canvas displays an Adinkra symbol. The symbols represent positive attributes. This piece acknowledges the origins and history of African Americans: that Black men, women, and children were taken from a culture whose families had the same desires and aspiration for their children as we do for our loved ones.
The subjects in the paintings vary in age and gender. Continuing the dialogue with the polyptych, the portraits are matted in batik fabric with an Adinkra symbol painted on the four corners of the mat. The inclusion of the English word for the attribute serves a dual purpose: first to translate the symbol and second, to transition the viewer to the present day.
The attributes, initially a hope and dream of African ancestors is now the mission statement of the Black Lives Matter movement, displayed above the gallery of portraits: “We affirm our existence. We affirm our right to not only live, but to thrive—to exist in a world where our humanity is seen and honored. We organize to realize a world in which our faiths are held in esteem, our identities are respected, and our families are prioritized. We deserve a world in which our children are protected, our Earth is sacred, and we are given a fair chance to decide our fates.
In homage to the enslaved millions who crossed the Middle Passage lay six paintings representing turbulent ocean water. They are placed on the floor and extend out from the polyptych. Six more water paintings extend from the watercolor portraits on the opposite wall to continue the metaphor of travel and time and the narrative that connects the two installations.
The Six 30”x40” oil paintings pictured below address the pain of
contemporary narratives portray: 1. the underlying prejudice of “All Lives Matter,” 2. the emotional toll of the deaths of African Americans, and 3. the kneeling of NFL football players in response to those deaths.
Five oil paintings pay tribute to African American women who I know and whose strength and compassion amaze me. The text, excerpts from poetry by Maya Angelou, ring true in my friends’ lives.