There was a lot for me to take in with this piece. Much that I did not see until well after the painting hung in my studio. I was shocked, last week, when several figures emerged that I had never noticed.
This painting is a metaphor for taking in what is before you. For resisting quick glances and appreciating the deeper parts of something or someone who may seem transparent and easy to initially dismiss.
As I prepared to enter this piece into a show related to race and the ease with which we make assumptions about one another, I began to explore the concept of bias in art.
Many of my works are unidentifiable as to race, gender, place. The ambiguity provides a Rorschach for exploring your presence. About diving in and seeing where you are with it—how you see it, what or who emerges as you sit with it.
So what do you see? In the soup that has become our current culture, it’s important to consider.
Can a piece of art make you better understand how different your experience might be than that of someone from another culture/ethnicity/gender?
This was my quest as I titled this piece. I poured over poetry and lyrics to see where it took me, if these art forms enlightened me—heightened my compassion. Spoke to me.
My reading/listening took me back more than 80 years as other artists expressed themselves about social injustice, bias and inequality.
For the first time in my life, I read Rev Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech.
Having listened to the melody of his words many times, I was floored when I actually read them. His imagery was powerful. With the poetry of his thoughts, he lit me. His insights were inspirational. I could feel his frustration, his determination and loving nature. I was moved by his genius, his patience and his clarity. His words made me want to do better and made me want to motivate others.
I don’t know that MLK considered the artistry of his speech, but his ability to express himself in such an open way, moved me in a way that art can move.
It’s fitting that MLK spoke those words 52 years ago this week in my back yard of DC and that I can read them today and feel the richness and importance of his message in every way that he intended.
Most profound to me were his words about how the fate of the races depends on all men enjoying the richness of justice—the freedom of all us is “inextricably bound” to one another:
And most powerfully: “We cannot walk alone.”
This phrase not said in a needy way, as if we need you to fix this problem, but more…look at this world, if we do not find justice in our world, we all suffer from injustice. That hate hurts everyone—even those espousing it.
Ok—off of my soap box, but the impact of this titling journey was profound for me…I continue:
Because where I landed was in reading poetry and not surprisingly by Langston Hughes.
In a 1935 poem entitled, “Let America Be America Again” about the promise of an America that never was for countless many, but surely could be one day, I found a stanza that spoke my art:
“Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?”
And so it is that this work of mine, “Who Are You That Mumbles in the Dark” lands—asking the question through the art, through the journey and through our culture today.
Look long, think deeply, feel fully…who are you that mumbles in the dark?