“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” - Carl Sagan
We as citizens of the United States are experiencing a time of great social and political turmoil. Now more than ever there is a demand for action, and it is time we ask ourselves what we can contribute to help generate change. It is time we utilize our strengths as individuals to encourage positive action, because it is in the darkest moments that we are provided with the most profound perspective. The greater the challenge, all the more innovative and significant the solution must be. Every day I question how I can best be involved in the fight for justice for all facets of humankind, and I still do not have all of the answers. And I know I might never find them, but in every question, even those with no clear solution, there is a lesson. It is my job to learn from these lessons, and from the experiences of those unlike me, and to act responsibly. I know I can't change the world, but I can change my attitude, and I can try to help encourage positive attitudes, compassion, and understanding in those willing to listen.
As an artist, I turn to my art when I am trying to work through a problem. I don't know exactly how I can best use my voice for good - I am not sure how directly effective I am by participating in a protest, calling a senator's office, or signing a petition. However, I do know I can start with imagery that might help me better communicate my ideas. I am struggling with the necessity of the social construct that is race - it doesn't fit in my generally scientific, logic-based point of view. But, I also have come to understand how the concept of not acknowledging race may not necessarily be the most productive thing either, and I do not want to disrespect someone's personal identity. In exploring this I began creating collages of women of color, but rather than using a colored paper for their skintone, I used imagery from photos of space. As Carl Sagan nicely said it, we are made of starstuff. I incorporated glitter paper in the collages for its light reflecting properties. Color is, after all, non-existant in a sense - color is an interpretation made by our brain communicating with our eyeballs seeing light bouncing off an object. When looking at these pieces, when the light shifts, the colors shift, and the information you see in the piece changes. I think this is a nice analogy for looking at race - its significance changes with its perspective.
I am currently living and studying in Providence, Rhode Island, and in looking at the public art in Providence there is an abundance of pieces that celebrate white men. At Brown University, there is a huge budget for public art, and the two large scale, prominent installations they have chosen are both made by white men. I grew up near San Francisco and always loved to go to the mission district to look at the vibrant murals that covered the streets there. I have wondered why, with such a vibrant art community at RISD, there is not more mural work in Providence. Murals are a form of public art that does not take up space, is far less expensive than building or transporting a sculpture, and can be a powerful platform for inspirational messages and ideas. And from my observations, it seems people generally like them more than the large hunks of metal we see plopped in the middle of a public spaces.
The portrait collages that make up this image served as the start of a public mural idea. If you want people to see your message, putting it up on a wall is a great way to do it. I want people to see big beautiful imagery of women of color, and clearly there is a lack of this in Providence. A sparkling, opulent, textured, colorful mural would draw attention, so to make the message unavoidably clear I put a quote from civil rights activist Audre Lorde at the bottom, urging people to keep fighting for equal rights for all women. I will be continuing the creation of these portraits and eventually will join them into an even larger series that I am showing this June in Reykjavik, Iceland. I feel very strongly that, not just in Providence, there needs to be a much greater presence of public art celebrating women of color.
The original collages are made of hand cut paper glued to bristol board.