Sunday, March 22, 2009

Borderlands










The boundaries being tested today by dialogue are not just ‘racial’ and national. They are also those of gender and class, of value and belief systems, of religion and politics. The borderlands are porous, restless, often incoherent territory, virtual minefields of unknowns for both practitioners and theoreticians. 1

Kansas City as a Child: nurturing public schools, comfortable middle class family values, so much love, so much potential, so much encouragement, Grandma’s depression pantry of canned goods and plastic containers, her basement salon hung with paint-by-numbers of eagles, the American flag, and log cabins in far-off Colorado.

Kansas City as an Adult: segregation, not-for-profit mostly Caucasian Kansas-dwelling young naive women busting their asses for at-risk members of society, namely black kids, writing in coffee shops, human resources corporate lackey, bad schools, loss, near death, vision, movement.

Kenya: exotic, complicated, devastating, addictive, motherland, artistic renaissance, heartbreak, orphans, corruption, exhaustion, service, family, burning garbage, unfenced lions, tusker, dancing around the fire, samosas, traffic jams, hard rains, crusty dust, mangoes, pineapples, hope.

New York City: everyone is an artist and everyone is a Democrat and everyone has white wires coming out of their ears. Crying fit in the middle of Williamsburg at rush hour and no one chooses to notice because they are moving fast so fast. Feeling the pulse of the city pound in your inner ear.

Joplin: Gun racks and fetus billboards and precious moments and praying hands and poor white people with bad teeth and strip malls and local commercials depicting the owner’s entire family standing silently trying to hold a forced smile and get your business, married at eighteen, kids by twenty.

How to mesh, congeal, digest these porous borders, the reality of my geographies? When I overlay and juxtapose the images of my geographies, what is new? At the borders of the layers…is there a fence, a canyon, a line drawn in the dirt? At the borderlands…do I even know I’m there? Have I created an imaginary map, drawn my own lines because I can, because I need to draw the lines? I’m not inclined to plant the flag, stake out my territory, lay down the law. But I must explore, expand, express, experience, expound.

I want to be recognized for the force with which I can explore
the limits of my identities, the ends of my institutions.
I want to be valued for the amnesia of my history,
The contingency of my cultures,
The silence of my languages,
The boundaries of my body,
The miasma of my memories—
And in that reach beyond,
I want to touch your histories and silences,
Configure our cultural confusions,
Meld memories of what remains untranslatable
But no less telling. 2

1 Lucy Lippard, Mixed Blessings, New Art in a Multicultural America (New York: The New Press, 1990), 6.

2 Homi K Bhabha, “Beyond the Pale: Art in the Age of Multicultural Translation”, in 1993 Biennial Exhibition (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1993), 72.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Neck Up


















Spring break is almost over. I'm in total denial. It's been mostly about maintenance. I'm better at start-up. Monday was the dentist. I adore my dentist. Julia Skidmore, ADC of Joplin. She fixed my front tooth. In and out. Fantastic. Tuesday was weirder. New salon. Mind you, I get my hair "cut" about twice a year, and rarely get it "done". Had it dyed, lighter. Highlights. Exciting. I'm an artist. I get into the color thing now. As I was tipped back awkwardly at the rinse station waiting for the dye to kick in, my stylist asked if she could wax my eyebrows. Sure, what the hell. Four quick rips later, I had sculpted brows. I kind of like them. Then, back to the chair for the cut. This was quick and painless. Then the get it "done" part started. I was clear with my stylist that this was now the part where I usually walk out the door: wet head, a bit of gel tousled in, finger comb, done. But she proclaimed that this is the part where she has fun, so I let her. Four products, hair dryer, two combs and two sizes of curling irons later, this was the result. Way too much effort. But fun to watch a fellow artist at work on my neck up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This is ART


Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven't seen this yet, you're silly. See it on the silver screen in all it's splendor; don't wait for the DVD. Hurry. I've always loved movies. Good ones. Ones that make me feel and think, by showing me and telling me simultaneously. Not until I took a cinema class in grad school did I realize that good cinema IS good art. A great movie is the best of all the arts rolled into one package: sound, movement, words, pictures, narrative, metaphor, meaning. You walk away somehow changed, hopefully challenged. This movie did that for me. I've been to the slums, the slums in Kenya. But slums are slums. One of the first scenes takes you on a chase. You're running with the kids through the maze of Mumbai's slum. You feel the chaos of the maze, the stops and starts, the density, the claustrophobia. I could almost smell it. The kids are darling, of course. Kids are kids. But they are survivors, and have to make difficult decisions in order to breathe. The shot above is the young Indian actor that plays the main character Jamal as a kid. What you don't see in this shot is that he is sitting in a public latrine, one that is at the end of a plank, a pier of sorts, and he is dangling his young ass over a hole in the planks that drops several feet into a communal pile of shit. And you don't see the next scene, where Jamal realizes he is locked in and has to make a decision.

The movie is ultimately a love story, so says the brilliant director Danny Boyle. But it is not that simple. It is layered, it hits on all the themes of humanity, just in an unexposed setting to many Westerners, so it feels raw and new. I bawled while the credits roled. And if you know me, you know I don't cry easily. I think I cried for the kids; for the Kenyan orphans my organization and family are trying to help. I cried for my own blinders, my own creature comforts that allow me to turn off the images of the slums. The ending of Slumdog Millionaire may be a bit Hollywood and a bit Bollywood, but it is no Cinderella story. It's rough. Go see it. Hurry.