When I work on a painting, there are always a number of ideas swimming around in my head - always at the same time and usually without any clear single direction. This is hard to deal with when creating a massive 10 x 5 foot work. The problem is, at any given time, the work takes on a life of its own and begins to direct me on the details of its completion. “Hmm, he’s weird,” you’re thinking. And I want to assure you that, yes, indeed I am. But even more, I’m overwhelmed with the barrage of thoughts that seem to have made a zombie out of me over the years, images and philosophies that dictate each line I form skillfully with the stylus, each stroke of the brush - and always they overlap and and intertwine with melodies, lyrics, and, and haunting vocal runs.
So, a number of these concepts have culminated in a 2007 painting (which may or may not be complete - I’m really not sure to be honest) titled Unearthing Pangaea. I’m new to “blogging” and I’m pretty sure that my posts should not be too long, so I will try to discuss this work in a succinct manner. Unearthing Pangaea has dimensions of 10 x 5 feet. The materials I used to make it are colored pencil, charcoal, acrylic and oil paints, in addition to excerpts from two poems: one authored by David Ragland, a fellow scholar, fraternity brother, and friend. The other poem, titled “Green Sleep”, I wrote, at the age of 15. This poem, though it was written so many years ago in my youth, presently plays a great part in providing an atmosphere for my painting Unearthing Pangaea, which in large part discusses separation and wholeness in the African Diaspora.
With hand-written words, I recall a recurring childhood nightmare in which my siblings and I get lost in a dense forest and are unable to locate each other for many years. I believe that a multitude of family problems, especially the messy separation and divorce of my parents when I was a child, were the impetus for this nightmare. I was terrified of the prospect of displaced time with my family, or losing them forever. When I turned 15, I recorded the dream into a poem called “Green Sleep.” As the architect of the poem, I took liberties to recreate the setting a little; I revised the dreamscape by pairing myself with my little sister Ido, “the girl with manners,” because the thought of being left alone without my family and isolated was just too miserable and draining to ponder, even in a poem.
While I cannot, in one post, provide all of the details that play out in a series of overlapping/ intertwined stories in Unearthing Pangaea, I can say that a great portion of my interest involved forced interaction between fragile bodies and equally crumbling topographies and landscapes. In this painting I imagine that our inner beings, our personhoods, at any given time, comprise a series of continental structures, which, as in the theoretical/geological construct Pangaea, break apart and drift away from each other gradually. They drift so far that over many many years, it;s forgotten that they were ever once together. Yet, the coastal shapes of these continents constantly refer to the parts that once made them whole. There is an ambivalent nostalgia in my painting because, as with the case of the earth’s continents, the structures that comprise my being will never fully be whole while I’m still living. Too much trauma and decay has already occurred.
So in this painting, I imagine the continental structures trying to memorize their counterpart’s coastline, in the same manner that African mothers must have tried to memorize the faces of their children as they were stripped away from their bosoms by European slave traders. The shoreline, usually considered to be a point of beauty with crashing waves that smell of sea salt, also becomes a point of contemplation, and then also a point of sacrifice, trauma, and memorializing. For it is at the shore that so many moments of trauma have taken place, not just the separation of African families, but also the breaking apart of the very ground itself, the destruction of Pangaea, the obliteration of our persons.
So as the waves crash, I mourn. It isn’t that Hope is absent. Only that sometimes mourning is the right thing to do. I haven’t had my recurring nightmare for years now. But, suffice it to say, it was kind of prophetic. The separation that I dreaded has played itself out in so many ways in my life and in that of my family.