“A book, or a work of art [culture]cannot by itself change the world, but by asking the questions that matter, it might attempt to be an act of articulation against violence, both the brutal and casual kinds. It might aspire to starting a conversation, through which together we might find common meaning and words that free.” —Jeff Chang
For this digital artist residency with Big Red & Shiny I will produce a series of essays that explore different emotions I’ve been processing and trying to articulate visually in America’s Post-Obama Era. This week the topic at hand is Affirmation.
I had my first real experience with the power of Affirmations last spring. As a part of my work with sparc! the Artmobile, I co-taught a workshop called Art in the AM for senior citizens in Grove Hall. My fellow teacher, Lisa Lee, started all of our sessions by having everyone in the room say the following affirmations out loud:
I am somebody.
My life has purpose.
I carry with me the wisdom of the ages.
And that wisdom shall I share with the generations that follow.
In response, she would read her poem out loud:
Pantoum To The Elders
By Lisa Lee
I’m delighted you’re here
I’ve come to glean in the field of your wisdom
I will attend my ear, hard, and fast
You’ve lived a minute and I’m learning how
I’ve come to glean in the field of your wisdom
I’m watching with fixed eye
You’ve lived a minute, guide me as I learn how
Show me the way to get life under foot
I am watching with a steady eye
Lead me to the peace of life troubles conquered
Show me the way, so I can get life under my foot
Give me action to take and tears to save
Take me to the peace of troubles conquered
…I am so glad you’re here
I look to you for action to take; your past tears can spare me tears
…Hey, have I told you, I am beside myself that you’re here.
Somewhere between walking through the door and hearing the end of Lisa’s poem, I could feel the energy in the room transform. For those who don’t typically do it or have different ailments, art making may not necessarily seem like fun, even if there’s an interest. Yet here frowns had turned to smiles. Anxiety had turned to calm. And everyone had settled in a comfortable place mentally and emotionally, so that I could lead them into art making or writing activities as our next phase of the workshop.
It was so satisfying to see how this small gesture of acknowledgement and placemaking set the tone for success. I wished that message could be shared beyond the walls of our workshop and into the neighborhood. I wanted so desperately to call upon that positive energy; to bask in the affirmation of my presence and the worthiness of good things. Best of all, it seemed like a small piece of that elusive self-care thing that I had started to hear so many people talk about.
As a Caribbean woman, educator and life long over-achiever, taking a moment to focus on self-care has been a struggle. The common theme between my intersecting identities was that self-care could be seen as selfish, rather than restorative and necessary to sustain all that I do and offer to others. I realized that if I could just have a visual reminder that I’m worthy of taking that kind of time, it would be so helpful. I knew I couldn’t be the only one in need of this kind of assurance. So I set out to put it into my art.
Following a slew of deaths of black people as the result of police violence and hate crimes, I incorporated the affirmations Worthy of Love and Worthy of Respect into the four murals I did for the City of Boston’s Paintbox Project. Next, I slathered You Are Valuable and Worthy in big bold letters on the walls of my studio. While both gestures felt like I was shouting these affirmations at the world, I was a little deflated by the fact that they were stationary and I would never really see public reactions generated by my work. Plus, I wanted to try my hand at creating an affirmation that people could physically carry with them.
Thus Affirmation Station was born, in response to this desire and a request for proposals put out by the City of Boston for public artwork in Dorchester. The goal of the pop-up “station” was to stimulate public dialogue about self-care via gifting the public with enamel pins adorned with one of the following affirmations: Worthy of Love, Worthy of Joy, and Worthy of Respect. In addition to verbal conversations initiated at the station, community members were encouraged to share written responses to questions about the form affirmations take in their lives. During a span of three, three-hour sessions in front of the Grove Hall Library, over 100 people came to join the conversation and receive an enamel pin.
Upon reflecting on the peaks and pits of this year, the different forms self-care can take, and my devotion to using art as a catalyst for social change, I have found that while I have many questions that remain unanswered, my inquiries are leading me to the right place: Growth.
Thank you for joining me for a segment of that journey during this residency at Big, Red, & Shiny. If you feel inclined to comment or have questions of your own that have been generated by reading my essays please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org