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.