How to Enrich your Life

Elements for multicultural artwork
Elements for work in progress on multiculturalism

My tenth birthday fell on Passover.  I was raised as an Italian Catholic but a friend of mine was Jewish and her family invited me to their Seder that year.  I was not sure what that was but my father, who was very big on experiencing other cultures, insisted I attend.  So I did.  Though it was a traditional Seder as far as the prayers and the main meal, at the end they bought out a birthday cake for me.  I did not understand until much later why my parents found that to be so amusing.

Because I grew up in a large city, there were always enclaves of different racial and ethic groups close by and in attendance at my school . Oddly, it was when we moved to a suburban area that I experienced the most diversity as far as close neighbors. The majority of the families living on our block were either African American, Jewish, or Italian.

Neighborhood games 72
Neighborhood Games, Mixed media, Collection Atlanticare

So I knew first hand that being among others unlike me racially or ethnically enabled me to see things from other points of view and helped me to be very accepting of others. It was not until much later that I also began to think of diversity in terms of geographic culture or in relation to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Enter my friend Claudia who is from Tennessee. I met Claudia doing art fairs and at that time she had been a resident of the North for many years. Not all that long ago in the grand scheme of all the years I have known Claudia, I asked her how she landed North. College was what bought Claudia North and among the many reasons she was accepted at her college was “diversity”.  I never thought of someone from the South as “diverse” in the sense of my definition of the word.  But then I moved to the South.

Assumptions, artist book addressing geographic food preferences

Here, I have met many wonderful Southern people. And yes, they are different from me in many ways and it has enriched my life tremendously. Ok how are they different?  Here are just a few: food, general mannerisms, figures of speech, humor, influence of faith, etc. Not long ago, my friend Alice revealed to me that she is originally from the town where My Cousin Vinny was filmed. I was overjoyed because I absolutely LOVE that movie as it reminds me of several of my relatives.  We decided that at some point, we will have a Vinny party and observe and explain the various cultural nuances of the movie to one another.

On a very different level but still related very much to point of view, last night I watched an interview with Melinda Gates. I am paraphrasing this story but basically she was explaining that it was very difficult for some groups of people and women to get business funding from venture capitalists and gave a very interesting example involving an African American woman who wanted to start a hair braiding business. Because the VC’s were men who had little interest in hair, they asked their wives if they thought it was a good investment. Because the wives were not African American and did not understand the culture of hair in the African American community, they said they did not think it was a good idea. I believe the woman eventually got funding and was wildly successful, however, it shows how unawareness and an unwillingness to learn of a facet of someone’s culture can be a detriment to everyone involved.

other people
The Other, Mixed Media, Collection Free Library of Philadelphia Print & Picture Collection

 

In the past few years, my life has been enriched even more because people of different racial and ethic origins are now related to me by blood. This has had a profound effect on my thinking because now my world has been expanded to consider issues concerning places around the entire globe.

My title to this post is How to Enrich your Life.  While it may not be easy to learn about someone different from you by traveling , moving, or acquiring new relatives there are so many other ways a person can.  There are books, documentaries, organizations with an internet presence, different houses of worship, and meetings in your community that would welcome visitors.  So I guess what I am trying to get at here is that the more we reach out to people who are not like us, the richer our lives will be and hopefully we will be better people for the effort.

Note:  you can read more about the piece pictured above titled The Other by clicking here. 

On Second Thought

Stickworks

Today I was walking around the campus of Davidson College and came upon the large scale stick installation I participated in creating over the winter.  As I walked through the sculpture I thought: Gee how much has changed in the world since those few months ago.  No sooner did that thought cross my mind did this other thought follow:  No it hasn’t.  And then I thought again:  Yes it has.  Ok, enough of the merry-go-round. I will explain.

Highly contagious disease is nothing new to a good part of the world, nor are Pandemics.  It is our good fortune that we have really not had to deal much with them. So it is not new, it is only new to us.  Racial injustice is also nothing new, many of us have just been blind to it.

So what is new then?

Lately, I have taken a great interest in Buddhism.  One of the principles of Buddhism is that suffering is part of life.  This sounds like a really depressing concept until you dig deeper and understand that suffering also leads to compassion.  And more compassion, in the long run, leads to less suffering.

One of my favorite definitions of compassion is from theologian Marcus Borg who equates (and I am paraphrasing) compassion with a deep, gut level connection with others.  This is the kind of feeling that once experienced, is hard to ignore.

It is easy to become complacent again once we are all healthy, back to work, and the news is only telling us things we don’t mind hearing.  But once we feel compassion, it is hard to look away and feel ok about it.  Feeling compassion is to be truly human. It is a good feeling. So maybe that is what is new.

Just saying

Many large companies are making public statement condemning racism.  My hope is that these companies who are large retailers will start with their own company culture and tell their employees to stop targeting black and brown people by following them around their stores.  Just saying.

Featured Guest Artist: Michelle Soslau

These oil paintings are from Michelle Soslau’s Bag Lady series. I was very moved by these images and thought they should be shared.

 

M. 2
Enter a captionMichelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

m. 1
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

m3
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series
m4
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series
m5
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

6
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

4
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

5
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

3
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

7
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

2
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

1
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

 

8
Michelle Soslau, Bag Lady series

Seeking Understanding of “The Other”

other people
The Other, 2018, Mixed Media on Paper, Collection: Free Library of Philadelphia

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.

Morning Edition
Morning Edition, circa 1988

 

Read More »