Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC, May 2016-July 2017
I was born a long long time ago in Anniston, Al. I was raised in a family of former sharecroppers from the deepest regions of Georgia. My mother, the oldest of ten children and the family, was uprooted by my grandfather in a move that relocated the family to Anniston, Al. My family until approximately 50 years were largely uneducated beyond grade school. My mother left school like her sibling, in the third grade and used that and common sense to educate two of her three children.
She, like her sisters, spent most of her life as a domestic worker in the homes of both southern and northern white families. My grandfather and his sons performed many different jobs as skilled but low paid worker. Most of the males in the family struggled one time or another with weekend alcohol addiction but for the most part took care of their families. Growing up in Alabama in the household and neighborhood where I lived was a complex and difficult endeavor. We were poor but not destitute. I never went without food or clothing. My environment was a small community of poor black surrounded by Jim Crowe on all sides. Growing up in Alabama with the racism and the poverty would have and did destroy many Black families.
I was lucky. I was never alone or unprotected. I was always surrounded by strength and determination. My grandmother, my aunts and later my sisters were women of great strengththat watched the children in our community with a protective blanket that kept most of the monsters away until we came of age and could invite the demons in ourselves. My friends and I were watched night and day by a community that valued us long before they could explain their feelings. I lived in the present of great strength and fortitude. It was always around me.
These were the people that shaped my growth and created the solid foundation that supported my journey as I walked the path looking for a life that they always taught me was mine. Their spirit influenced me, molded me and and picked me up when I stumbled. So as I was searching for just the right titled for probably my most important exhibition, I looked back to those days when I was surrounded by the protective umbrella of a strong extended family. As it has always happened in the past, the incredible memories of their lives and commitment to family reminded me of who I was and how in spite of the odds, manage to reach one of the high points of my profession. I chose the title Enduring Spirit.
It is important to note that in choosing this concept, I was careful not to add the “s” as in “Enduring Spirits.” The title was meant as a tribute to the individual perseverance of the many women and men who took responsibility for the life that was offered to them and struggled to pass a legacy of struggle and resistances down to their children. Enduring Spirit was never meant to be a testament to any religious doctrine. It explores the strength of my past that has informed my present and gave me the wisdom to prepare a future for those that I love.
The tall eight foot piece on the long wall is a part of that series. Whereas, the completed exhibition is based in the concept of unrelenting struggles against the terrible overwhelming pressure to survive, these drawings I think express this point unapologetically. This exhibition lives my live, speaks my truth, and talks of the many battles, and wounds that a life time committed to trying to do the right thing for others and my family has etched in my mind and spirit. When my mother taught a lesson, it was for life.