Some version of this post has been rolling around in my head for a while now. I’ve struggled with how to articulate what I need to say. The deep things of my heart are sometimes too deep to express; I paint because it is easier for me to say those things with color. Words are important, though, because they can help clarify and define our purpose, so we can actively move toward something instead of just flailing in the dark.
How it started
I’ve had a lot of anger over the past few years. It’s grown steadily since 2010. I made plans in September 2010 to attend a women’s conference with a friend. Sweet Christian white girl that I was, I thought I was going to a nice Christian women’s mission conference. Little did I know, I was going to have my eyes opened and my heart broken. This conference put huge swaths of my privilege on full display: my white privilege, my financial privilege, my educational privilege, my country of origin privilege. It was a terrible weekend. I came home miserable but with the seeds of anger planted and the seeds of change starting to grow.
I was angry because I hadn’t known what women in other places face: the poverty, the abuse, the discrimination. I was angry because it was so easy for me not to know. The social system I live in makes it very easy for me not to know. It functions better when I turn a blind eye to suffering. It functions in my service when I don’t look. That is the dark beating heart of my privilege.
I worked with the non-profit of the conference I went to for several years. I served on the board of directors. I went to Nepal twice to work for a women’s economic development project. I went to Haiti to help film a story about maternal health for the organization. I got to meet and learn from women who are working for real change in the developing world for other women. But then my eyes were further opened to the institutional racism embedded in the very organization I was working with, that I thought was inoculated to it by its mission to the people it served. I was heartbroken anew. I left searching for how I could best serve my fellow women.
Inside of this slow-growth of my social justice work was my developing art practice. An artist has lived inside of me my whole life. My parents nurtured her unknowingly by providing me with materials and examples of their individual creativities. I never quite knew how to provide her with space, though, but in 2013 I decided to start making art every day with no intention other than to make. When I started selling things rather unexpectedly, I decided to try and exhibit my work. I had my first show in 2017. It was called “Conversational Sexism”. (You can see works from that show under the tab “Conversational Sexism Series” on my portfolio page or you can read about that process in these blog posts: My Upcoming Show: Conversational Sexism, Another Show Update, Thoughts on Conversational Sexism, and Hanging the Pieces of My Show.) This show was a few months after the Women’s March, the largest single day of protest in American history. It highlighted the sexism and sexual abuse women have always dealt with and which was a particularly tender spot for us after a known sexual aggressor was elected as president.
A merged path
My heart for women’s equality and empowerment and what I loved to do was starting to take shape and bond together. I think about this Frederick Buechner quote almost every day:
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
I’m always mangling that Shakespeare quote about art and nature. I’m sure I read it in high school English class and it is now forever in my head as “the purpose of art is to hold a mirror up to nature”. Yeah, that’s not exactly how it goes, but it’s been a driving force in my creative life like I’ve reimagined it. What do I see that I can reflect on? What do I need to highlight in my art? Where can I invite people to see what is going on underneath? Where can I challenge people to start making a change?
I think art is a liminal space that can allow us to explore hard things if we are willing to engage and be changed. I think my calling as an artist is to explore that space and the issues of our day and invite us all to imagine something different, something better, something more expansive, and something more inclusive.
Earlier this year I exhibited a show I titled “Women’s Work”. This body of work explores the theme of women’s traditional roles and how the highlighted women chose to engage or not engage in those roles. The women featured in these pieces and their stories are juxtaposed with crochet made by my grandmother and great grandmother, as well as new crochet pieces I made to further explore the line between traditional handicrafts and art. (You can see pieces from this show under the tab “Women’s Work” on my portfolio page.) This work feels even more prescient these many months after it is finished given how COVID has impacted women in the workforce this year.
My Christianity and my art
My anger is bigger and more nuanced and it has steadily expanded to encompass the white American Christian church. The Christian church ought to be on the move for the flourishing of all people. Instead, we are mired in sexism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, racism, homophobia, respectability politics, defending the status quo, colonization, and paternalism, just to name a few. The white American church has been subsumed by empire and it isn’t a good look for us. We’ve taken on the othering of whole swaths of people who need our sanctuary. A lot of my art journaling recently has been talking directly to the white church on some big issues we are facing right now.
I don’t always know what to do with my anger or how to wield it well. I read something this past week about anger that I’m still thinking about. (I wish that I had bookmarked it so I could attribute it appropriately.) It talked about anger being the language of hope, about being able to imagine that there could be a different way and the anger being the fuel to try to make change. I’m going to be thinking about anger being the language of hope for a long time. Would that you catch fire with me when you see what I’ve made.
I’m posting this on Election Eve 2020. This has been a hard four years for some of us. If you are reading this and it hasn’t been a hard four years for you, I invite you to examine why that is. If you are mad at me in this moment, I invite you to reflect on who might be getting squashed for your comfort. If you feel the need to tell me I’m not being nice, I invite you to look up the definition of respectability politics and ask yourself why my niceness is a priority for you over the message that we need to do better.
I realize the longer I type the more friends I’m losing. That’s hard for a people pleaser like me. I wrote in my journal this week that if your love for me was contingent on me saying nice words and making you feel good all the time then it is a shallow love and is probably already shriveling up. I needed that reminder that I am not for everyone. Please know, though, that when I post my art, I’m inviting you to imagine a better world with me. I’m attempting to call all of us out of our apathy and to see the larger systems that are at work to keep us from loving people well and working for all of our good. Join me.