Where Justice Meets Joy (2020)
I’ve been reflecting on the role of art in my life this past year. As a queer, mixed race, black-skinned daughter of immigrants ~ and as a mom with a daughter starting high school ~ carving out time to get into the studio each day is saving me and keeping me sane.
I started this painting on Valentine’s Day ~ in the Time Before. This piece saw me through the shutting down of life as we know it due to the global COVID pandemic. I learned that fire tornados and murder hornets are real things. I weathered cancelled openings and events, and missed graduations and family gatherings. As the world stood still, I bore witness to the brutal slayings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Michael Ramos, Dreasjon Reed, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Carlos Carson. And I found inspiration in the youth-led uprising that fueled the protests and demands for justice in the months that followed.
Out in the world, I was confronted with, and witnessed, oppressive hatred aimed at eradicating all that I embody and love. In my 20s, the energy of these encounters would have ignited the righteous anger that fueled my activism. Now that I’m just shy of 50, I find that anger, even when it’s righteous, is no longer a generative power source for me. Instead, it drains me, shuts me down and closes me off.
My focus this past year has been refusing to allow this groundswell of hatred, willful ignorance, and fear-mongering to diminish my humanity. Choosing to come from a place of beauty, compassion, accountability, generosity, resilience and joy is an act of radical love. I believe this gritty, robust, eyes-wide-open love is the root of liberation. My resistance meant daring to believe that the world through my eyes, as a queer Black woman, is relevant and beautiful and worthy of consideration.
Instead of absorbing the caustic energy, I poured my rage, fear and grief into this painting. After 8 months, the energy gave way to something new and surprising. And out of many layers of pain emerged a vision of a world where justice and joy coincide. The painting was offering me a vision of liberation that was deeply seeded in this radical kind of love.
So this year ~ and this painting ~ have taught me three things about the role of art in my life.
- Art is my portal to Liberation.
- Making art is how I convert energy into matter.
- Art is no longer an ‘if I have time’ matter. It has become as integral to my well-being as my daily writing practice. It is a must. It helps me repair and restore the parts of my soul that are beyond the reach of words.