Do this for me. Close your eyes (you gotta read all the directions first and then do it), take a deep breath, visualize your favorite place. Hold that place in your mind’s eye. When you’re ready, release the breath and smile.
Y’all. 2020 has been something else, ain’t it? It’s been a blessing, too if we think about it. The global pandemic and subsequent quarantine have really been a challenge. And I know the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and George Floyd (among others), and the subsequent protests (many of which have turned violent) haven’t lent themselves to us lifting our hands in collective gratitude every day, but they have allowed us to see things a bit more clearly, 2020 vision if you will.
See, when this year started, I had just come to grips with the fact that I was taking my first real steps into living the life of my dreams. I had an idea of where I wanted to go, and a calendar full of events and show dates with more coming. This was exactly how I wanted things to happen; I had taken the leap and the Universe had conspired with my higher self to catch me and let me ride this awesome wave of abundance. Then COVID-19 hit, and the events were cancelled. It really bummed me out. My perspective was skewed because I felt like I’d been set up for the okey doke by Spirit. Amid trying to adjust to working a business that almost requires some in-person interactions with potential clients and the art, Ahmaud Arbery’s blood cried out for justice. Then Breona Taylor’s. And their murders were just as egregious to me as had been the killings of Rekia Boyd and Philando Castile (among others). I tried to stay focused on the business. I wanted to create, but the inspiration wasn’t there. I’m going to be completely transparent here, because I love y’all, and I believe with all my heart that right now, with all that’s going on, Black people need to be open, honest, and transparent about our feelings, so we can heal them and move forward, together.
One of my nephews transitioned the same week as George Floyd. 3 days after, to be exact. That was it for me. And though those two things were unrelated; it was the gravity of both losses that hit me the hardest. Sometimes, because of my research and familiarity with the history of policing of Black bodies in the United States, I tend to be somewhat detached from stories of extrajudicial murder and lynching. It’s not that it doesn’t bother me, because it absolutely does, but as an intuitive and an empath, there’s only so much I can allow myself to feel. So, to know that a baby recorded the police taking the life of a Black man for no reason, and then 3 days later receive an unnerving set of phone calls, really did a number on me.
When I think about the fragility of human life, and the dangers we all face just surviving on a daily basis, the idea of what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Atatiana Jefferson and many often unpublicized others, almost sends me into the fetal position in a corner somewhere. The thing that exacerbates it is the fact that, as I often say, “we know how this goes”. We know the script: “I feared for my life”, “They were resisting”, “I thought I saw a gun”, et cetera. We know that as soon as the name of the victim is released, a manhunt for some piece of information or photograph to justify their murder begins. We know that if the murderer is arrested, they may or not be appropriately charged, and if they are, they more than likely will be acquitted. We know this. We feel it in our belly whenever we see a new hashtag on social media. We get angry because it’s happened again, because our intelligence is insulted, our human rights violated, and in the age of social media, where Black murder/trauma porn is just a click away, another family must see the last moments or the events that led to their loved one’s last moments on auto replay everywhere they look. We also know that if/when we protest, the politics of respectability tell us when and how to express our anger, and we know that such an expression often leads to more police violence. Because this train, with all its cars, and steam, and noise, is never fucking late.
So, with all this grief and angst and heaviness around me, I wasn’t expecting to paint anything. I think it’s important to say here, that I must create. I am compelled to do so by Spirit and my higher self. But sometimes, getting my body to cooperate is a challenge; because I’m also analytical and overly critical of myself. But because I’m teaching myself to be more obedient and open to Spirit and the gift I’ve been given, when the idea for Retribution came through, I sketched it (if you could call what I do sketching, I don’t draw) and decided to paint it the next day if the inclination was still there, and it was.
ret·ri·bu·tion | \ ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən \
1: RECOMPENSE, REWARD
2: the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment especially in the hereafter
3: something given or exacted in recompense
especially : PUNISHMENT
I think it’s appropriate to pause here and say that I work with my ancestors and ascended masters. I am grateful for them and remember them. I say the names of those I know and give honor in place of the names I don’t. I ask them for guidance and help when I need it. And they come through for me in very real ways. So when I create something in this vein, it is because they have decided to speak. And I humbly give them space to say what they need to say. Let’s continue.
I listen to music when I create. It helps keep me focused by obscuring any outside noise or distractions, which keeps me in the creative flow. For this piece, I was listening to Kamasi Washington’s “Fists of Fury” from his 2018 album Heaven and Earth, because that’s what popped in my head when I saw the painting in my mind (honorable mention goes to Nina Simone’s “Dambala”). The title of my piece comes from the lyrics:
Our time as victims is over
We will no longer ask for justice
Instead we will take our retribution
Washington did the score for the Michelle Obama documentary Becoming, and when I heard his familiar refrains underscoring the recounting of Barak Obama’s presidential victory, I screamed. I love his music. Anyway, let’s talk about the process and then I’ll tell you about how the lyrics fit in.
This piece measures 24” x 36” and is painted primarily in acrylic. I say primarily because I’m not sure I’m completely done with it. I feel like it may end up being a mixed medium work. I started by painting the canvas black. It had been an acrylic pour that I wasn’t necessarily fond of, but I allow myself to paint over something twice before destroying a canvas, so it was redeemed, I guess. After the black dried, next came the faces in the background. These 4 blank faces represent the ancestors. I paint a lot of blank faces in my work, because I want people to be able to look at a piece and see themselves or someone they love looking back at them. This is one of those cases. Many people my age don’t know who our great great great great grandmother was, but we know she had to exist because we wouldn’t if she hadn’t. We also have to know that she too had a great great great great grandmother, and I want to honor all those people, so the faces stay blank.
Once those dried, I did the fist. I wanted it to obscure the faces a little because it represents not one hand, like maybe my fist, but a collective hand with the strength and power of many fighting together. Those people that we cannot see who fight alongside us. The fists of our ancestors all combined into one.
Next came the word retribution itself. I’m not a word artist in the sense that I don’t do calligraphy or hand lettering. I don’t have the patience. But every now and again, I will paint a word on a piece if it calls for such. I generally do so with a lot of abandon, meaning, I look at the piece, decide where the word should go, how big/ dramatic it should be, et cetera, and then paint it. I went in with this one in black and gray first and came back later with the red body and white accents.
The faces, the fist, and the word retribution take up most of the canvas. This is because it is all supposed to overwhelm, just as the current injustice overwhelms us. I used black, crimson, naphthol crimson, naples yellow and yellow ochre, a couple of umbers, grey and white. I chose those colors because of the emotion they connote. Spiritually, red is associated with energy and our will to survive. Nothing speaks to a people’s will to survive more than “we will no longer ask for justice, instead we will take our retribution”. And the “we” here represents the collective. In African cosmology, people exist in the past, present, and future, all at once, meaning my ancestors are just as alive right now as they were in their physical bodies. So they will take their retribution for injustices they suffered along side those of us who walk around in a physical body. We do not fight alone.
My soul coach refers to this pandemic experience as “the great pause”. She says that one of the points of this whole thing was for humanity to look at itself as a whole and for individuals to sit with where their lives are and where they could be. I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s what I gleaned from our conversations these past few months. I allowed myself the grace to not force myself to create for the sake of a social media post quota or a dollar amount in sales, and out of that grace period came a different voice. I’ve tried as an artist to translate my feelings and thoughts into images for the greater good, but because of my background and upbringing as a small town, Southern, (formerly) Baptist, Black woman, I often held my tongue— or in this case, my brush— so as not to offend the sensibilities of non-Black people. People like me are taught that upsetting caucasians was asking for a kind of trouble that could get you killed. And that training, that programming, made life miserable. Especially in the age of social media, when police brutality and the extrajudicial murder of Black people across the country have been given more visibility. Growing up, the video of Rodney King being beaten was scary, but that was California, and I was a child. It was also a cautionary tale that reinforced the importance of obeying caucasians and law enforcement at all costs. These murders though feel different. They feel more spiteful. I’ll spare you the discussion of the current president’s rhetoric and how it works in this equation and just say, I cannot watch those videos because it breaks my heart, and I will not listen to that man talk because it all makes my skin crawl.
So what do we do? Almost everyone with a piece of a platform has an idea, which is almost everyone with a device and sliver of internet access. But what seems to be missing, at least from the larger conversation, is how do we sustain this work? Because the work has to be done. The troublesome pickle jar lid is loosened, so now all there is to do is screw that bitch off and eat. But that requires the energy to do so. What I’m suggesting here is that we each take the initiative to do the work of making sure we are okay. And if we’re not, that we give ourselves the grace to find viable options to cope. What this experience, the transition of my nephew, the pandemic and this unintended hiatus have taught me, is that I only had a superficial understanding of self care. My friend Tiffany (@tellemtiptoldyou) has an awesome series each week on IG live where she gives comprehensive tools and motivation to help people take better care of themselves holistically. It’s been helpful. Other things, which seem innocuous but have really changed the way I live as of late are:
A regular journaling practice. Y’all know I sell them because I love them, and I wrote about that earlier, but it’s necessary. We all need a safe space for our words and feelings. Kids and adults. This is scary and heavy for us all, and we have to get those feelings out.
Making my own meals. I cook a lot. I have since I learned how to under the watchful eye of my grandmother. Now with everyone at home and under quarantine, I’ve had to cook more. And to be fair, my eating habits are different from those of my new family, so, every once in a while, usually for lunch, I’ll make myself something special. Something that I enjoy that nourishes my body. I make the meal with love so it can nourish my soul. It can be as simple as a sandwich or a bowl of cereal. If I make it with love, it’s delicious regardless.
A relationship with nature. I’m a country girl, so outside is my happy place. I also love plants, and most of them love me. So I have houseplants aplenty and a patio garden (read: mini forest) that houses the herbs, veggies, and fruit that I cook meals with. There’s something special about eating food you grew. My family has a large farm, and my grandmother and her siblings each had their own gardens, so plants to me are like extended family. They add so much life and love (and cleaner air) to your space. It doesn’t take a lot of money either, just a willingness to care for something outside of yourself. I will warn you though, just like collecting my art, having plants can get addictive. Start with one and love it. Thank me later.
Will these things, or any other activities or practices change the state of race relations in America? No. But what they will do is give you some sanctuary, some semblance of peace in this flaming dumpster fire we’re currently experiencing. For every ounce of your peace you lose dealing with the fuckery of the world, these and other activities that make your heart smile could help you reclaim a pound of peace in return. That’s a kind of retribution they can’t stop you from having.