Whether I was aware of it or not, “otherness” has been at the center of my consciousness. My early ideals of beauty were shaped by paintings throughout art history, television, and photographs in fashion magazines. These images were presented as beautiful, mythical, and heroic. Engrained reminders that placed me outside the embodiment of a particular “Venus” that didn’t look like me, which ultimately influenced the way I viewed myself.
As a child of an Afro-Caribbean mother and a white American father, my work draws strongly on the complexity of heritage and how my identity at times falls into an ambiguity. Coming to the US from Jamaica, as a young child, I have always examined and experienced life from the periphery. Traversing as an intersectional nomad, moving between liminal spaces at times without explanation and other times needing to defend or navigate the common microaggressions to prove my parentage, Blackness, and diversity.
It is these assumed norms referenced from memories and connections found within my personal history and evidence in world history, literature, and pop-culture that I use to create. Considering myself a visual anthropologist, cataloguing and surveying these experiences as if I was on expedition. Framing human archetypes as specimens and dissecting them. Defining an internal evaluation of cultural history from female exposé, cultural presentation, beauty mutation, and myth. Investigating the way our identities have been imagined, invented, categorized, and shaped through societal interpretations.
During the pandemic, my focus has been on a new body of work in the studio entitled Passing Between the Lines. The work was presented in a solo exhibition at Long Gallery, in Harlem this past fall (September 17–November 15, 2020). Through abstraction and pattern, Passing Between the Lines examines the concepts and experience of intersectionality, cultural ambiguity, “invisible blackness,” “passing,” and referencing W.E.B. Du Bois’s social philosophy of “Double-Consciousness.”
In the drawing entitled Uprising (2020), from the Passing Between the Lines exhibition, I employ black and white stripes to evoke multiple layers and meanings. Stripes are often associated with animals, incarceration, fences, trickery, borders, flags, barcodes, and hybridity. With the continued and ongoing xenophobic zeitgeist, the pattern identifies beyond the personal relationship to being called a “zebra” as a young girl. The stripes now symbolize a barrier that signifies the displacement of marginalized bodies and ongoing social-political systems of abuse in this country.
In addition to the stripes, coils of hair that are reminiscent of braids—which is a criterion for beauty—wrapped in gold links create a tension for what or who is being held behind this wall of stripes or appears to be peering over it. This muse is obscured from its identity to create a psychology of the familiar and ambiguous. Through abstraction using these symbols and visual language reveals present consciousness and my interpretation of our national mood.
The word “passing” in this series is a direct reference to the literary legacy and anthology of Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. Larson’s fictional stories entitled Passing (1929) and Quicksand (1928) are about women as “emotional nomads” navigating on impulse to shape-shift among society in order to survive or pass between the lines of race are easily identifiable to me. As a result, the works are anonymous portraits that represent intersectional-identity, alienation, and otherness.