We look to images for answers; ways of reveal meaningful things to us in life; visually discussing, what words can sometimes only suggest. Providing a visual narrative of what took place before, during and possibly after our period, places timely imagery in a category of its own. In the 1850’s photography of slaves were used to maintain a psychological hold; a form of oppression expressing inferiority and a beastly nature of African-American. These appalling images gave white America the rational justification for maintaining the economic and sub-standard social condition of African-American enslavement; traits of which still exist today in housing, healthcare, education, law, employment, economics, male-female relationships, family values, law enforcement and a large part of mainstream media, etc.
The dysfunctional properties of drama, issues, confusion and kayos are designed to strip us of the fun, joy, love, respect and happiness we are due from this world. Our mental health challenges; resulting from over 400 years of racism, discrimination and oppression; with our communities being under constant siege from destructive forces within as well as outside demand us to think of new and creative ways towards regaining our power as a productive people. Viewing life from an empowering perspective can help change the pyridine of dysfunctional behavior in our African-American communities.
Shifting the Pyridine of Hopelessness and Dysfunction to Empowerment in African-American Communities:
Art is a great tool for re-directing the thought process of how one sees oneself; combating the conditions of over 400 years of oppression. Images can speak of the beauty, dignity and dynamic prowess of a people. The “See Positive” photographic art campaign, a collaboration between Brooklyn photographer, Emily Schiffer and community leader Orrin Williams on Chicago’s South Side seeks to uplift, inspire, reinvigorate and empower the moral, psychological and spiritual well-being of an abandoned underserved community coping with challenging conditions of living better lives.
Being raised in New York City, between Harlem and The Bronx during the 60’s, gave me an enriched exposure towards viewing many different races and cultures. The writings of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, James Weldon Johnson, Naomi Witherspoon, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison presented me; in my youthful years at Laurinburg Institute in Laurinburg, North Carolina, with an insightful look at Black life in America; a dignified sensitivity into the African Diaspora.
In 1971, my English teacher, Mrs. Melton exposed us to these writers of The Harlem Renaissance. Their work took me on journeys, into places within the minds of men and women living in Black communities; places I might never have experienced had I continued to attend James Monroe High School in The Bronx, New York. This uplifting experience of understanding embraced me as I began pursuing a career in photo-journalism and color photography in 1973, at Los Angeles City College in California.
My many years of overseas exposure; living and working in Ghana and Nigeria, West Africa (1978-’84) and my photographic assignment experience with The Associated Pressgives me an insightful understanding of positive and negative media coverage; realizing the treacherous visual literary and verbal bombardment African Americans endure in this society as well as throughout the world, prompted my Visual Wellness Projects:
“Love, Happiness and Harmony,” the first in this series, was presented (without poetry) in 2010, under the gracious guise of the late Averlyn Archer at Canvas Paper and Stone Art Gallery in Harlem, New York. This imagery discussed the visual values of wholesome, parallel living between Africans in America and West Africa. Love, happiness and harmony are universal. These are precious gifts we give to ourselves and powerful values we can also share with the world.
My second show in 2011, “When Happiness Enters our Lives,” at the private home of Victoria Blake in The Bronx compelled me to exhibit a series of images, accompanied by poetic verse; placing us in an arena of visual, emotional and physiological prosperity; celebrating the greatness, humanity, beauty and power of our “Blackness.”
In both shows I discuss ‘Visual Wellness in Art’ from the prospective of maintaining the presence of love, happiness and harmony in our lives. I ask the question, “What do we do, when happiness enters our lives?” Do we greet her with kindness and open arms; excited to see and have her in our presence? Does getting a raise in pay, a new car, discovering a new technique for an old method or finding love in the eyes of a good friend make us happy? Or do we question happiness; ask why me, feeling unworthy and become suspicious; sabotaging the beauty of her blessing?
No one can make you happy; it is a wonderful gift you bestow upon yourself. It is something which results from careful understanding of our choices and decisions in life. What we eat, our relationships; the people we allow to share our personal space, with whom we sleep and how we see the world can take us down many wonderful roads towards consistent happiness.
My body of work celebrates our African presence in the world; our caring, affection and love of life with one another; wholesome esthetic values, genuinely applicable for whites as well as other ethnic races to view; giving them a wider perspective of our being thus, letting all know many Africans in the Diaspora are looking, striving and participating in the same wholesome values…life bestows upon us all.
‘Visual Wellness Art’ can remind us of the powerful intrinsic values one can share with one another for overall prosperity. Leadership, dignity, respect, happiness, honesty, integrity, loyalty, fun, balance, trust; loving one self and others, working smart and hard, etc. are powerful traits for successful living. Life is a partnership; alliances one forms with others for the purpose of destruction or creation.
Positive imagery well placed in our lives and communities; discussing the necessity of humanity in our being, re-directing our thought process from destruction to creation and enhancing it into the sublime is a very powerful tool for collective achievement, empowerment and harmony.