With eleven month old Thatcher Gray on my back, we meander our way though Chichicastenango’s Saturday market, awash in vibrant Mayan color and patterning. Starting with stone lithograph prints of rain forest inspired drawings, tracked with fresh tar then torn into squares, the process represents the fragmentation of Mayan land and culture. Atop this foundation, cultural persistence is demonstrated by Mayan traditional practices maintained despite Guatemala’s history of atrocity.
When I was pregnant, I had the opportunity to listen to one of the impassioned speeches given by Vrnda Noel in Denver. Mother of a combat medic in Iraq, she shared deeply emotive stories of what was happening there based on letters written home by her son. She had made him promise to write about his experiences in minute detail. Ultimately this ended up being cathartic for him as there were many traumatic situations that he was able to let go, and then forget. The speech she was giving was during an anti-war rally outside our local senators’ offices and I was struck by the expressions of love, sorrow and fear that passed through her delicate features. After his return to the US, they created a number of participatory creative projects that spoke to the impacts of war and the process of healing the mental wounds from it. Empty army boots and civilian shoes installed in Civic Center Park represented the growing death toll on both sides of the conflict. The combat paper project helped Vets transform by encouraging them to purge frustrations by destroying uniforms, then use the pulp to create artworks. Their practices inspired some aspects of the community work I’ve developed over the years since.
This series of portraits was included in the very first exhibition I had after Thatcher Gray was born. I created them while he was in my womb, and the process allowed me to consider this relationship between a mother and her war torn son. Shreds of oil paintings that I had torn apart with a shotgun were used as the base of a collage, which I then laid hot coals atop to produce a speckling of charred board across the picture plain. Pencil drawings depict the range of expressions that passed through Vrnda as she spoke with determination about her love for her son, and as an extension, all of the other sons affected by war.
My great grandmother was a spinner in South Carolina for most of her life. She took me there before she died, and I recorded the burnt out and collapsed structures as a perfect reflection of how manufacturing has continued to leave our borders over the years. The elegant brick structures have been abandoned for cheap labor and lower environmental standards found elsewhere in the world.
Offering an intimate portrayal of life in a ‘mill village’, where inhabitants were often referred to as ‘lintheads’, I appropriated excerpts from my grandmother’s letters into burnt drawings of the mill. They reflect the difficulties of life during the industrial era and remind us that we are not so different from people elsewhere.
Time spent in Honolulu in the first years of the new millennium was split between our home, way up in the top of the valley above Palolo, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, where I studied stone lithography with James Koga, and the studio, perched above a woodshop that built Ukeleles in the industrial zone of Kalihi. This was an area where I needed to be accompanied by a local as it was rare to see a white face there. It was in Kalihi that I found and painted these fish markets. The street scenes reflected in shop windows were painted in Chinatown, from photographs I had taken on family dim sum Sundays.