One of the inspirations behind this newest piece was one of the promotional posters for my new favorite show Queen Sugar featuring two of the lead women actors Dawn Lyen-Gardner and Rutina Wesley. The show is shot with such indescribable beauty and sensitivity that it's hard not to be inspired by it. What stays with me about the show is how the characters, in spite of their very relatable flaws, have such capacity for hope and growth. This capacity for growth is what we have to hold on to these days when the news seems so seemingly stark and replete with bad news about hurricane aftermaths and mass shootings.
This piece is also the latest in my series featuring Black women and I was excited to create a work featuring two women together, reinforcing the importance of unity and solidarity and how when we come together, what we create is phenomenal. I'm also continuing with my continued intrigue with an interstellar theme because I think it also signifies limitless possibilities. A good friend told me that he likes to study cosmology and the nature of the universe because it puts things in perspectives when it comes to our place in existence, an idea which I love. Looking to the stars helps keep my sanity and the concept of incorporating Black imagery with it lends to the idea of possibility of expansion.
I'm noticing that fire is an underlying theme in this latest round of #Inkscapeportraits. Maybe on a subconscious level, I feel like every woman has something burning within her, be it #desire, rage, #vivacity, etc. I find this especially to be the case with the #women that may seem to be reserved on the surface but if you take the time to look her in the eyes, you see something powerful within.
This latest Inkscape portrait is a part of an ongoing project that I want to dedicate more time to. This image in particular was inspired by an old Ramsey Lewis Sun Goddess album, which my dad had a copy of when I was growing up. I used to love studying how wondrous it looked. Similarly, I wanted to created a sense of inner luminescence, which is why I wanted to make sure the face of my muse was awash in #gold.
I want to experiment more as I get more comfort with this series. I tried several different versions of the image, layering the portrait with lots of #Inkscapes but I felt like something simpler was better, so as not to overwhelm people with detail.
"The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative. The history of the capitalist era is characterized by the degradation of my people: despoiled of their lands, their true culture destroyed... denied equal protection of the law, and deprived their rightful place in the respect of their fellows."
In celebrating Black History month, I'm returning to my Black Superheroes series with new portraits of Black civil rights pioneers and wanted to start with Paul Robeson. In what seems to be a moment of synchronicity, I stumbled upon an article today in USA Today that discussed how Paul Robeson's activist legacy is so relevant to current times because it merged art with activism.
Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1898 to a father who was a former slave and went on to become an All American football player at Rutgers University and became class valedictorian. While pursuing his law degree at Columbia University, he sang and performed in various off campus productions. As his notoriety as an actor and vocalist grew, he became increasingly interested in civil rights issues of Black Americans. Robeson traveled abroad often and he eventually embraced Soviet communist principles because of its seemingly colorblind philosophy. Unfortunately, his support for communism cost him his career; during the McCarthy era, he was investigated by the US government and stripped of his passport. Unable to earn a income or travel abroad, his career suffered and never recovered. He spent his remaining years in declining health and seclusion but still remained committed to the principles of activism and social justice.
Robeson the athlete, intellectual, artist, and activist, was a renaissance man who's legacy is currently undergoing a resurgence at a time when we need it the most. May his work inspire us to be "the gatekeepers of truth" and to speak up against injustice wherever we see it.
I've added postcard sets and prints of my Black Superheroes series! And to celebrate its release, I'm offering a limited time sale. From now until Friday, 2/26/15, use discount SUPERHERO to get 20% off your order!
Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That's the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system."--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a young girl growing up in Pittsburgh, I remember listening to the famous I Have A Dream speech on the radio every year on the holiday and being awed and often moved to tears. The vibrato of Dr. King's voice moved me and yet made me feel mournful; I was incredibly sad that someone of his magnitude was gone and angry that someone would attempt to snuff out his light.
I say attempt because Dr. King's light continues to shine.
When I was in middle school and was living in Michigan, the area that I lived in did not commemorate the Dr. King holiday and we had to come to school without any real acknowledgement of his legacy. When I asked one of my teachers why this was, his response was because probably there wasn't that many Black students in the school system.
Luckily, my mom wasn't having it. She let me have the day off but on the condition that I did something to mark the holiday; I wouldn't be sitting around watching cartoons. Instead, I participated in a local march in Southfield and attended a program celebrating his legacy. Later on in the day I visited Detroit's African American History museum and bought my first African beaded bracelet, one of my most treasured possessions. That day was a reminder to me about what his legacy should be about; activism and cultural pride.
For a while, his image seemed in danger of being sanitized; his face was seen in food and beverage ads, he was too often made,into the poster-boy of passivity as the response to Black outrage in the face of racism and oppression, he was cast as the balm to Malcolm X's fiery activism. But now, I feel like we are taking Martin back and celebrating him for what he truly stood for. He was a revolutionary who not only challenged the evils of racism, but of poverty, income inequality and even capitalism. He was fiercely pro-Black and saw the virtues of socialism. (I highly recommend reading Harry Belafonte's memoir, My Song, which wonderfully details Mr. Belafonte's close friendship with Dr. King as well the fallout from his assassination). I truly believe he become truly feared when he planned to mobilize the poor before he was fatally shot. How astounding is it that he accomplished several lifetimes worth of achievements by the time he was taken from us at the tender age of 39.
When making this Inkscape portrait, I used the color blue because that is always the color I associate with Dr. King (it is the often the color I associate with people I feel warmly about). I also continued the theme I used with each portrait where every subject had a light source emanating from some point within as a symbol of their superpower.
While this is the last image in my current Black Superheroes series, there will be more editions to come, each of them celebrating and interpreting the richness of Black culture.
"I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don't believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn't want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I'm not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn't know how to return the treatment."--Malcolm X
As I put this post together, I had the hardest time trying to find a Malcolm X quote that I love best but it's impossible because there are so many.
I don't know how best to describe my admiration for Malcolm because it runs so deep and has run for so long, ever since I was a girl in middle school and devoured The Autobiography of Malcolm X (and then to go on and rewatch Spike's Lee's masterpiece based on the book multiple times) in nearly one day. Those words were written over 50 years ago and yet they hold so much truth today, which never ceases to blow my mind. I am awed by his brilliance, by his transformation. To be able to go from a troubled kid, to a hustler, to a former convict to one of the most brilliant minds ever to grace this earth is beyond powerful. Hell, powerful is too small a word to describe such a metamorphosis.
A few years ago, I also read Manning Marable's controversial biography Malcolm X, which sparked outrage over, among other things, questions about Malcolm's sexual orientation and the suggestion that his marriage to Betty Shabazz was less than idyllic. I didn't choose to read the book for those reasons but rather because I was intrigued by Marable's meticulous research and how much his accounts humanized Malcolm. Throughout his life, no matter what stage of growth he was currently undergoing, I sensed this loneliness about him that is common to when one is in search of their own personal truth. It only seemed to deepen with time as the foundations that fueled his activism (Elijah Muhammand, The Nation of Islam) continued to become undone.
In spite of the fact that Marable's book touches on Malcolm's personal flaws and contradictions, it heavily emphasizes how Malcolm bravely soldiered on in pursuit of his own personal truth and evolving philosophy, even when his life increasingly came under threat. Reading this made me even admire him even more all the while wishing he could've found that solace, that someone could've put their arm around him and tell him, "It's going to be all right" and for him to know that and really believe it. Even when he seemed to know that things would not, he still kept on, even when he was offered asylum from the Ethiopia, he choose to remain.
I admit to having this fantasy of being able to travel back in time and rescuing Malcolm from that fateful day in February when we lost him forever and allowing him safe passage on his continuing journey so that he could continue to teach and lead us. It's an absurd wish and there is a danger in elevating someone to a central figurehead such that you fail to do the work yourself. I realize this, but it is a dream that I can't help to revisit every now and then. Would things would have been different? Would he still be seem as divisive or would we have had the good sense to really listen to him as we do today, now that he is no longer with us?
In making this Inkscape, I of course wanted to encapsulate Malcolm's fiery, pull-no-punches truth-telling, so I used an Inkscape that resembled fire. I wanted his truth to be his seared in like a never ending fire.
I never knew Malcolm but yet I feel so comfortable referring to him as Brother Malcolm because that what he is to me: a brother, a comrade willing to get down in the trenches to fight alongside us, guiding us down a righteous path of indignation and an unquenchable thirst for justice.