It’s odd how things come in clumps. Or maybe we are just more tuned in when we are engaged with a particular topic. Not long ago, an opportunity arose to participate in an exhibition honoring women of the Civil Rights Movement. What immediately came to my mind was a piece I had been working on called Making the Dress. While not really about Civil Rights, a large influence on that piece was the sacrifices women have made to support their families, often in the clothing and textile industries. While some women worked from home doing mending and tailoring, others faced terrible working conditions in factories. A particular tragedy that comes to my mind when I reflect on this is the Triangle Shirtwaste Fire of 1911. The curator of the exhibition was very gracious and said she would include my piece and asked me if I had any other work. While I did not have any pieces on the Civil Rights Movement, I realized that I have made work in the past that subtly addressed the topic of race relations.
I had made a series of drawings and linocuts back in the 1990s that included generic faces which were always multicultural. It was sort of my way of saying we are all human beings and here together. In addition, I just recalled today that the first commission I ever had was for an organization called the Frankford Human Relations Coalition. I made a cut paper collage of various ethnic groups of people engaging in chatting, playing jump rope, etc. I have no record of this piece but it was made similarly to the image below of the people riding the subway. Again, not a big statement, just a way of showing people living together going about their daily lives.
The first time I ever made a piece that very directly addressed issues of rights was when I learned about the Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants who tried to organize labor. Whenever I read or heard about this case, this particular clause always struck me as odd: “Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted by an all white jury”. The phrase “all white” confused me because I reasoned that Sacco and Vanzetti were also white. I then learned that dark skinned immigrants, including my grandfather, were not considered white in the early part of the 20th century and many were banned from entering the country. It is sad that history continues to repeat itself.
Back to the exhibition from the beginning of this post, I decided to challenge myself to make another piece for this exhibition. At first, I set out to do some drawings similar to the ones I had done in the past showing people of different racial/ethnic groups enjoying each others company. Then, after several unfortunate recent incidents regarding bias, I was outraged and decided I needed to address the issue more directly. So after much prayer and varying degrees of sadness and anger, I came up with the piece pictured at the top of this post.
Other things that have come to my attention this week, a new museum that opened in Alabama, The National Museum of Peace and Justice. A good friend of mine also introduced me to a man named Benjamin Lay. You can read about him in this article called You Will Never Be As Radical as this 18th century Quaker Dwarf. And, last evening, I attended a wonderful program presented by a group of people who visited the Mexican border and shared insightful information with the audience.
So I will end this post by simply saying that my goal for myself is to seek understanding before judging. Something that takes time and energy to do but is very necessary to be fully human. I hope you will join me in my efforts.