I have decided to focus on my voice this year. And if you’re a woman, yours too. Today, I am reflecting on my artistic voice, and those that encouraged it and those that sought to stifle it.
I am a single parent, and a cancer survivor. I had kids before I could finish my degree and always wanted to go back to school. After surviving breast cancer, I found myself at odds and wanting to make a change in my life. My boys encouraged me to go back to school to get my degree. So that’s exactly what I did.
I started at my local community college to be close to my doctors and to save some money frankly. I loved it! I loved the community, the collaboration, encouragement and Kathleen Baum! She is a wonderful metalsmithing teacher who encouraged us to use our artistic voice without judgement, and without question. She is a tireless champion of women of every age. She encouraged me to grow with as much enthusiasm as my younger peers, not once making me feel as if my age was in any way a detriment to my art journey.
When I transferred to a university, I expected the same, only better. I have to say I found that and some other things too. First, let me say that I went back to school in my forties. Also, I have also been through some shit, so I am no shrinking violet. I am not afraid to follow my path or speak my mind. With that said, my art reflected what I was feeling in 2017, and the country were going through at the time.
I spoke about my anxiety at the direction the country was going and how it affected women like me. Along the way, I appeared to rub some the wrong way, while others celebrated my achievements with me. There are two instances that are stuck in my mind.
In one of my classes, we had to combine two “people” real or fictional into one. I had chosen Gollum, (LOTR fans know him well), and Jeff Sessions. I thought the two mirrored each other perfectly, but my instructor was not on board. He had the balls to suggest I pick another subject, like an “actor or celebrity”. What The Fuck! I am not sure if it was my age, or my gender or his fucking obtuseness, but how insulting was that. As an art professor, his job was to encourage my artistic voice, not try to silence it because it got his big boy pants in a bunch. And nope he was not an anomaly. I was working on a pattern for screen printing, and was trying to work climate change and the Bush administration into the theme. Yeah, that guy was not having it either. He literally sat down at my laptop and started changing my design, with one more “appropriate”. Yeah. No. Why is it, men of a certain age and nationality think it’s okay to dismiss a woman, to silence her voice, just because it makes them uncomfortable? Needless to say, I didn’t let those two dull my sparkle.
I worked in education as a student support paraprofessional. I worked with many different kids with many different stories and experiences. Like some of them, I struggled financially, and like some of them, my kids came from a single parent household. Despite those shared experiences, many said to me, “that I just didn’t understand” their struggles, and they were right. The difference was that I was white, so I could never understand their lived experiences. That didn’t mean I tried to silence their voice, or ignore it. I listened to it and encouraged them to use those experiences to amplify their voice. At least I hope I did. To this day, Keosha, Terry (Kevon now), D’Andre and proud, spirited Damita all hold a place in my heart. That is what I was looking for from my professors. Acceptance. Encouragement. But there are always a few insecure uptight people out there that want to force their insecurities onto you, especially if your artistic voice in in conflict with their beliefs.
I don’t want to give the impression that my time at university was bad, because really it was not. I found some gifts while I was there. Some fellow students who encouraged my artistic voice, asked questions about it and tried to understand it. I also found a jewel of a professor named Najjar Abdul-Musawwir. In reality, we shouldn’t have been friends. He is a mature African American artist who has seen some stuff, and I was a 50-year-old suburban white female artist. But Najjar was a revelation and a beacon of brightly colored light. He was so secure in who he was, and where he was going, that he was not put off, dismayed, or freaked out by my voice. He encouraged it. Maybe because he had to fight so hard for a voice of his own. Sometimes, I felt like he looked at me with a bit of bewilderment, but instead of trying to silence my voice, he wanted to understand it. For that I will be forever grateful. It is because of him that I can share my truth with you.
I am now out of school for a few years and after exploring many themes and ideas, I realize that my strength lies in my experience and my putting a voice to that. To celebrating a woman’s struggle and succeeding in spite of. To giving a voice to all of us who were expected to be silent to succeed, to survive, to live. On that note, I thank you for coming along on this journey with me and supporting my work!
Until next time,