Over the last several years, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with other artists, activists, and scholars. These projects have allowed me to bring painting into the concrete realm of community engagement.
The first piece featured below was created to be a book cover for a friend's historical ethnography on the commodification of gold and its relationship to the policies of austerity during the recent economic crisis in Europe. See further explanation and links below.
The rest of the work is part of a project called "Dearly Beloved: We are our own Record Keepers," a commemoration of Black and Indigenous people murdered through state sanctioned violence. Initiated by two Black mothers and professors, this project involved memorializing 32 individuals through painted portraits and through the construction of a quilt. The portraits were created by local artists in Boston and Providence. I had the honor of coordinating the portrait portion of this project, and below are the three paintings I contributed. The quilt was created by women of color, ages 6 to 70; they connected in the African American tradition of quilting circles and wove together a stunning tapestry, a remembrance that records and honors lives that have been senselessly and unjustly taken. Both the portraits and the quilt were featured in a mass memorial service that took place on October 2, 2015 at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in which students wrote and read eulogies for each of the memorialized individuals. The goal is for other cities to create their own "Dearly Beloved" quilts as a way to both record our own histories and heal from the traumas of living under the white supremacist, colonial systems of the u.s.
This painting was created to be the book cover for my dear friend's incredible book "Selling Our Death Masks," a profound critique of capitalism that explores the rise of cash-for-gold shops and fascist tendencies during the economic crisis in Europe. The painting takes several elements of the book's narrative, including the the commodification of gold in the context of colonialism and slavery, the rise of fascism in Greece, and the apocalyptic reality of the post-industrial western world.
Here is the painting on the actual book cover. You can learn more about Yesenia's book here: http://www.zero-books.net/books/selling-our-death-masks
Darrien Hunt, age 22, was murdered on September 14, 2014 in Saratoga Springs, Utah by the local police department. Go to link to learn more. I felt moved to memorialize this young man because he looked like an older version of my little brother--a harsh reminder that my closest loved ones are not safe in this country. I tried to capture the beauty of Darrien's spirit and humanity and the violent extinguishment of his life that came far too soon.
Sandra Bland, age 28, died in police custody on July 13, 2015. To learn more about her legacy, go to link below. Her death occurred right after we had compiled the names for the Dearly Beloved Project, but I felt moved by my ancestors to memorialize her. This portrait is meant to honor her light and her activism; in the months before she died, Sandra was actively engaged in speaking to the struggle of Black liberation on social media. Her legacy lives on in the powerful videos she left behind.
The centerpiece of the quilt represents the countless unnamed and unknown Black and Indigenous lives taken through state sanctioned violence since the inception of the colonial-settler u.s.a. The vibrant colors and semi-abstracted forms within the silhouetted portrait are meant to capture the infinite complexity and resilience of these ancestral spirits that were unjustly ripped away from their physical bodies. The black hood references the white supremacist construction of black criminality.
This is the complete quilt in an exhibition at the Community Church of Boston, October 2016.
These portraits are for another Dearly Beloved quilt. Kendra James, 21 and mother of two, was murdered by the Portland police on May 5, 2003. She was unarmed. To learn more you the incident surrounding her death. See link below for more information.
Alfred Olango, 38, was murdered by the police on September 27, 2016 in El Cajon, California. Originally from Uganda, Alfred was shot while suffering from a mental health crisis. His concerned sister called the police for help and they arrived and killed her brother. For more information, go to the link below:
Manuel Loggins Jr., 31, was shot by the police on February 7, 2012 in San Clemente, California. A U.S. Marine Corps Sargent and father of 3, Loggins was killed in front of this two daughters. For more information about Loggins and his death, see link below: