(Originally titled “Pushing Back So We Can Breathe More Deeply Than Ever Before”) Dayton Visual Arts Center, August 25 through September 22, 2017 Curated by Michael Caselli.
NOTE: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, the people are Afro-Atlantic, more commonly referred to as Black. The words “we,” “us” and “our” refer to Black people.
Pushing Back Toni Morrison best articulates the the psychological impact of White Supremacy.
“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn't shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
And yet, the results of that same dedicated self-study builds a bridge to your power and glory. It instills an irrevocable understanding that no System can actually paralyze us or put a cage of helpless terror around our minds unless we let it.
For history to stop repeating itself, we must stop the in-depth study Whypipo’s Black history. We must stop studying how well they have kept us in check and examine all those moments we broke free.
We must study the hidden histories of the Quilombos, the West Indian Maroon societies, the Geechee Gullah. We must examine our alliance with the Seminole Nation who remained actively at war with the U.S until 1858. We must remember every thriving “Black Wall Street,”especially the one destroyed in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1921. We must listen to the stories of survivors of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia in 1985.
We must study the periods of our most fearful strength. The type of strength what needs to be put down with force from military, mobs, organized militias, and other weak minded Whymen. The kind of freedom minded strength that provokes violence.
Pushing Back is not marching. Pushing Back is the journey inward. Pushing Back is setting yourself to the sacred side to build, reinforce and claim yourself as a powerful Afro-Atlantic person (as opposed to empowered.) Pushing Back is a personal declaration of freedom and commitment to resist despair, despondence and ignorance.
So We Can Breathe More Deeply
We are a many layered people. Centuries long gone past face value and simplistic surfaces.
When one gazes upon an Afro-Atlantic person, one witnesses the ocean. When one scrutinizes Afro-Atlantic art, one gazes into the ocean. When gaze upon ourselves, we see a massive, roiling body dancing harmoniously with the heavens.
In order to breathe, we must go in as deep as we can. As we push deeper and deeper, we experience pressure. We think, perhaps, the pressure is so deep that we might explode. It is this moment, we must find the will and power to go even farther. When the courage is found to push on, we learn that exploding is a learned response. The denial of our self-awareness feels more natural than self-awareness
My work is a conjuring. It is a conversation examining our many layers. It is a marine archaeology expedition determined to excavate the wisdom and resilience of our Saltwater African ancestors. It is also a journey into the stars from whence we came. My work pushes back into our past and future to better understand how we got here and where we are going.
Than We Ever Have Before
Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” had a profound spiritual resonance with Black people. He gave his last breath stating our Everyday Obvious. Many people were unaware of the way in which White Supremacy renders us breathless. We are so conditioned to remain out of breath in order to survive.
Each generation hopes the next will do better. I come from a long line of free people. Freedom is a state of mind. Freedom is an ability to move through the many worlds within worlds that is America with confidence. Freedom has unlearned what Whypipo would have you believe. Freedom acknowledges slavery without shame. Freedom recognizes White Supremacy, its systems and mechanisms and thwarts it by continuing to fight and thrive. Freedom loves all Black people - from rachet to respectable.
I have known, watched and learned as five generations of free Afro-Atlantic made their way through this White world. I am the beneficiary of an intergenerational transference of power. So, when Alice Walker first published her definition of Womanisim in 1983, this phrase defined the way in which I grew up, “not separatist except periodically for health.“
In the many years since, I have reflected upon those times in my life when I have experienced a revolutionary happiness. It is always when I am with my figurative sisters ~ laughing, carrying on, being loud without our guards up.
I wonder what would it take for Black people to let go of fear. Fear of job loss. Fear of economic insecurity. Fear of life loss? How will all of us get and stay free? I could only imagine it in some very drastic future. A future in which all persons considered White have become extinct. What kind of society would Afro-Atlantic people create? What about technology? Given how deep the Digital Divide is, what about technology? However, Black women have always been able to turn little bits of nothing into something. We would build something. It would have seashells, feathers, beads and ribbon. A prayer, Spanish Moss and some Florida water could get a circuit board working again.
These works exist in a time where Afro-Atlantic people are breathing more deeply than ever before.