Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I often hear the phrase "this country was built on our backs" in reference to the labor of enslaved Africans in America. When I look at buildings that were built and/or serviced by my African ancestors, or travel across land that was ripped from my Native American ancestors, there are times when I can almost feel them, their stories stirring in the wind. There are some spaces I enter and find myself saying, "If these walls, or this soil could talk!" I have always been fascinated by the history of people, places, and even objects. That's one of the reasons that I love to paint and draw on things that are old and used. It's as if my canvas suddenly has its own ancestry. There's a story there.
In my current piece, one part in a larger series on ascension, I incorporated very faint abstract squares drawn in pencil to represent all that my ancestors created, how they lived, and died. As I drew the squares, I couldn't help but think of Bob Marley's song, I Get Out (Of Your Boxes) and particularly Lauryn Hill's Unplugged rendition, raspy and pain-filled, but beautiful, as though you could feel her waging war on those attempting to fence her in.
I drew thin lines over some of the boxes to represent the chains of imprisonment and slavery. I made horizontal lines outside some of the boxes to represent my ancestors sacrificing everything to create a new horizon, to bring the dawn of a new day.
I've used this ancestral foundation motif in a few of my pieces. I like to keep the reference faint and abstract because often as we rush about in our everyday lives, we don't think about what was built or how it came to be here. It can all become part of the background. But if we pause for a moment to look and to listen, the truths of our history are present, often faint as a whisper. I wanted the ancestors to whisper through this piece.