I don’t mean to sound dramatic but I feel like my life is about to change. Okay, maybe the dramatics were intentional, but I thought it would be a good opening to this blog entry. This week I have art work featuring in a local upcoming BIPOC exhibition and it feels like a big deal. I’ve had the honour of taking part in a few group shows and a couple of solo exhibitions over the years in Vancouver and in Ireland but this one feels different. I have three pieces in the exhibition, one of them is a new one and it's a painting and poem I wrote about my mixed up feelings surrounding the Black Lives matter campaign blowing up in 2020. It started out as various notes and journal entries and really was just a way for me to work through my messy thoughts. I then turned it into a rhyme to try and simplify and compress it all and in the end, when this exhibition came up I decided to include it as a descriptor for one of my paintings. It's the first time I've ever brought race and identity into my work and it's sort of terrifying. The poem is not perfect and by no means the best thing I’ve ever written. I even think there's a chance it will not make sense to anyone but me but the process of writing it and then making the decision to put it out into the world was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever created. I hope this is the beginning of me taking artistic risks. I’m nervous about having to deal with other people's negative feelings about my feelings. I am still working on how to be unapologetic when it comes to other peoples discomfort.
After moving past a difficult downward spiral, this year started off well and things were beginning to look up again. I was feeling confident and I was so excited to share some artistic opportunities I have coming up. It seems that waking up to the realities of anti-blackness and my indoctrination into healing and self development has sent my creativity into overdrive and perhaps for the first time ever, I feel like I have been making some artistic breakthroughs. I am basking in this overflow and savouring these moments. I want my visual art to speak for itself and I wholeheartedly believe it will get there but right now that looks like words and ideas and connections and deep conversations and some painting, but most of all, it’s just a feeling.
I am still learning and unlearning but now that I have accepted responsibility for the roles I play in upholding the racist and patriarchal systems we exist within, I want to do something about it. Everything seems to be moving so fast and I want to do it all. I want to share what I have learned and pay it forward and write and make art and heal and help. In no way do I think I deserve the title of “Activist” or “Organiser” but I think with learning and work I could certainly get there someday and that my experiences at least might hold a foundation for helping people help themselves. I try not to get carried away with possibilities in these moments and just use the tools I actually have. I came up with a plan to try and sell my art and make money so I could keep making art and eventually make a difference. I was feeling pumped and ready to get started. And then last week, my momentum came to a halt, or at least a slow down when I opened up my computer and read of the death of Keenan Anderson, a black school teacher in the States who was killed after being shocked with a Taser multiple times by an LAPD officer.
My colleague at work had opened up the conversation the day before but I was now having a delayed reaction and as I read more about the victim and the incident, I felt completely paralyzed. A fresh wave of “I can’t believe this is still happening” set in and I sat in bed crying thinking of this young man's family, friends, what he was doing that day, what he had for his last meal , at what moment he knew he was going to die. I thought about every black person who experienced or feared racial violence and how this news made them feel. I didn’t think sharing a news article would be helpful and I wanted to put something in my own words, but I didn’t know what to say. I got frustrated because there is so much to say and didn’t know where to start and then felt overwhelmed and wondered what difference it would make anyway when incidents like this were happening everyday. A part of me wondered if another wave of BLM would kick off and worried that me trying to promote my work and in particular my poem around this time would seem performative. Reposting just didn’t seem like enough. Then I felt bad for making it about me. I hovered over my phone for a long time and tried to do some writing but that also seemed pointless. It had taken me so long to get to the point where I could even see the blackness in me yet alone talk about it and because of my inability to repost a news article, suddenly all the shame I thought I had somewhat resolved from this came flooding back in.
After some time I went for a run and luckily it was therapy day too so I got to process all the weird feelings with my therapist without feeling like I was burdening anyone. The moment was humbling and I was reminded once more that growth is not linear and I considered that if I am part of the black diaspora then BLM is about me and that my feelings do in fact matter. I know that the only experiences I can speak for are my own. Still, the conflict I felt about wanting to advocate for other people but feeling inadequate cut like a fresh wound.
A couple of weeks later and I haven’t heard anybody even talk about Keenans death and this has somehow motivated me to keep going. I have found my strength to put words on paper again. The plan I had in my head to get all my ducks in a row did not work out but I am not beating myself up about it. For a moment I felt like I was right back in 2020 but I know I am now equipped with better tools now to deal with my feelings. I realised while putting the poem together that admitting I don’t have the capacity to hold space for people who are threatened or overwhelmed with discomfort by me choosing to be more vocal about racism and issues around identity has meant I am able to show up for myself and to hear my own voice more clearly. And in addition it has meant I am able to show up for others who need a safe space to talk through racist encounters they experienced. Last week there were three and I’m honestly not sure I would have been able to handle these conversations before. I’m proud of myself for this progress. Making my work public somehow feels like an important thing for me to do and this small act of radical vulnerability is all I have right now. I don’t know if anybody else will feel the world changing and I don’t expect them to. I know the shift needs to come from within. I probably can’t save the world but beginning with myself seems like a good start. I can already feel it happening.
Incapes: Our Landscapes within is an upcoming BIPOC exhibition taking place at The Italian Cultural Centre IL Museo and Gallery, 3075 Slocan St, Vancouver from January 26th-April 1 2023