Sunday, 20 of April of 2014

Tag » people of color project

Plaything

A child sits and plays with swirls of blue-green-yellow energy.

Plaything by Heather Keith Freeman
17″x11″, pen and ink on watercolor paper

Image description: A child sits and plays with swirls of blue-green-yellow energy.

My venture back into the world of color continues!

I started this a while back, but wasn’t happy with how the ink blending was working. Tried again a couple days ago, this time bringing in a technique from my acrylic painting days, with the liquidy swirling-color-on-the-canvas stuff. (Aren’t you amazed at my use of technical jargon?)

The working time for ink (in terms of both how long it takes to dry and how long it takes my back to sieze up) is incredibly short, but I was able to do this background in a few short chunks throughout the day, and I can’t find the seams between sections, so I guess it worked!

Topic-wise, this was inspired by a discussion on the Goddess Circle about the magical intuitiveness of children, and how they are unhampered by “reasonable” expectations of what is possible.

Edited to add: due to the many positive comments here and elsewhere, I’ve made prints of Plaything available at Redbubble, from a $2.50 greeting card up to a $160 framed print.

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object.init(sexy)

New art time.

My motivation for this one was something relatively light and fluffy as a change from the last one. I was also interested in starting to pull in some more technological symbology, maybe even playing with the steampunk aesthetic a bit.

What I ended up with was this.

A woman is seen from behind, looking over her left shoulder with her hand on her hip. Her right side is shadowed, save for a circuit diagram labeled in undecipherable characters.

object.init(sexy); by Heather Keith Freeman
9″x12″, pen and ink on vellum

It’s a commentary on how programmed/formulaic the modern definition of sexiness is. Have this sort of body, the hair draped just so, the pout, the sidelong glance, half an ounce of rebelliousness and 3/4 cup of potential submission. Plus bonus! hypersexualized racial stereotyping!

I’m aware that those who aren’t familiar with my work may not see that it’s commentary on what I believe is a damaging and destructive trend rather than an example of that trend itself. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of sexy robot girls out there with no social commentary involved at all. I think in the end this may be a fore-runner to another piece with a more explicit message.

Technical Notes
The circuit diagram is (mostly) real; I copied it from one available online, for a 230-12V transformer, with a few wires lengthened or turned to make it fit in the right space. I’m no electrician, but I did my best to make it reasonably authentic while still having the right “look”. It is hand-done, no rulers, protractors, or other tools other than my pen and my eye.

The diagram and the highlight in her eye are done in silver paint pen; in person it’s really quite a neat effect. Paint pens have gotten a lot less messy and more precise in the last few years – that or I just wasn’t using the right brand the last time I tried!

This will probably end up in the Experiments in Form gallery on my redesigned website. (Only the Activist Art gallery is up so far.)

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What She Wants You to See

New art!

I’ve discovered I can get out of creative dry spells if I can come up with multiple reasons to do a particular project. I generally only seem to be able to rationalize away one at a time….

The reasons for doing this one were several. First off, I was getting frustrated with the social justice theme – it was starting to feel propaganda-ish to me, which was a sign I’d gotten too deep and needed to back off until I could see the glowing heart of it again. So I wanted to do something that was just plain pretty.

But that felt frivolous (I know, I know… issues…. I’m working on them.) – I still wanted a reason, something in particular I was trying to accomplish. So I decided to do a portrait of a woman of color, in continuation of my efforts detailed here and here. Finally, I decided to also use it as an opportunity to experiment with some new techniques.

An African woman wearing a black headscarf gazes at the camera, her eyes glinting in the shadow.

She doesn’t really have a title. The file name is “Shadowed”, but that’s more of a descriptor than an attribution of deeper meaning. If I had to ascribe meaning to her, it’s a reflection of the uproar over women in hijab, and an effort to show a strong, happy, confident woman who’s wearing a head covering because she wants to. (In other words, shame on you, France.) But I haven’t gotten all that to distill into a nice little title, yet. Thanks to reader Kate, her title is now What She Wants You to See.

The new techniques in question are dry-brushing on the fabric and some new pens – nothing all that drastic, but I like the effects.

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Think of the children

A child's face seen in profile, the shadow of an adult face behind. A light appears behind the shadow, highlighting words that say \


They Will Become by Heather Keith Freeman
14″x17″, pen and ink on watercolor paper

(Image description: A child’s face seen in profile, the shadow of an adult face behind. A light rises from behind the shadow as if it were a planet, highlighting words that say “When you “think of the children,” think of the adults they will become.”)

Here’s my newest piece, “They Will Become”, pictured at right.The meaning of this is (I hope) an obvious reference to the all-too-common conservative plea to “think of the children” as a cover for denying people information, choice, and control of their own destinies, and a way to avoid the question of what happens to these children once they’re grown, or even born!

Once a woman is forced to bear a child she can’t take care of or doesn’t want, then what of the child once it’s born? If the child is female, how can you fight for her to be born at the expense of her right to control her body once she’s grown?

Once children are denied accurate sex education, what of these same young adults once they acquire the power of human sexuality without the knowledge to wield it responsibly?

Once children with disabilities have grown out of their “sleeping angel” photo ops, what are their resources, where are their advocates then?

Don’t use children as your excuse, your cover story, your trophy with which to parade your agenda. Children. Are. People. How you treat them now will affect them once they’re grown, and they are neither more nor less deserving of your respect than adults.


Racism, Ageism, AND Cissexism in My Process!

As part of my ongoing efforts to depict more people of color in my work rather than default to white, I chose a source photograph of an East Asian girl. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts I think her race got kind of erased in this. I am fighting the combined ageism and racism of Western art education, which uses overwhelmingly white, abled, young adult models both in life and in photo books. Until I started deliberately depicting people of color, I didn’t even realize how limited I was by this. Many of my base assumptions, grounded in decades of practice, about the structure and shape and proportion of facial features, were thrown out the window by this model’s age and race. I think I managed to overcome the age factor – I think she realistically appears about six or seven – but I don’t think I succeeded with her race, and I’m disappointed about that. It represents a big hole in my skills, and I’ll continue working to rectify it. Edited to add: I’ve been told by a couple of people now that they do read the subject as East or Southeast Asian, even before reading my post on her; so it’s possible I’m just too close to the artwork to see it realistically. Regardless, my point stands: drawing people of color is something I have very little experience in, and need to practice.

I also had an interesting time choosing the wording. As originally conceived, the piece would have said “When you ‘think of the children’, think of the woman she will become.” I was slightly troubled by the mismatched grammar (plural “children” vs. singular “woman”) and by the focus on girls as if boys are not also victimized by disrespect and condescension, but managed to justify them. Then I realized that I was being cissexist by presuming that a child presenting as a girl would grow up to be a woman, and that was enough to push me to reword it. The result doesn’t have quite the ring or flow of the original, but it’s fairer and more true to my principles, which is a worthy tradeoff.

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Not Yours

Here it is, the piece that’s been eating my life for the last week and a half. I’m seeing cross-eyed from doing all that text. (35 lines, ~40 characters per line on average. Oy!)

I’ve been wanting to do a piece on this subject for quite some time, but it didn’t coalesce into a firm image until a couple of weeks ago. Obviously the message is centered on reproductive freedom, but many of the statements apply to gender identity and expression, religious freedom, disability rights, and gender equality as a whole. In short: my body is mine and mine alone. I and I alone have the right to control what happens within it, and to declare my own experience.

A woman stands facing you, wrapped in a scarf on which the words


NOT YOURS by Heather Keith Freeman
12″x16″, pen and ink on watercolor paper

The text behind her reads:
MY BODY, MY RULES.
YOUR GOD IS NOT MY GOD.
THE STATE OF MY GENITALIA IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
MOTHERS ARE PRO-CHOICE TOO.
FORCED PREGNANCY IS SLAVERY.
TRUST WOMEN.
PRO-WOMAN MEANS ALL WOMEN, NOT JUST THE ONES WHO THINK OR LOOK LIKE YOU.
I AM NOT YOUR INCUBATOR.
I AM NOT YOUR SLAVE.
THE SHAPE OF MY GENITALS DOES NOT AFFECT THE WORTH OF MY SOUL.
THE VALIDITY OF MY WOMANHOOD IS NOT YOURS TO DETERMINE.
THE LIFE OF A FETUS IS NOT MORE VALUABLE THAN THE LIFE OF A WOMAN.
THE STATUS OF MY SOUL IS NOT YOURS TO DETERMINE.
MY GOD IS PRO-CHOICE.
FAMILY PLANNING MAKES HEALTHIER FAMILIES.
THERE IS NO ONE TRUE WAY.
FORCED STERILIZATION IS ASSAULT.
THE STATE OF MY UTERUS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
MY PURPOSE IN LIFE IS NOT DETERMINED BY MY GENDER.
CHRISTIANS ARE PRO-CHOICE TOO.
MORALITY IS NOT ABSOLUTE.
INDEPENDENT LIFE BEGINS AT BIRTH; ALL ELSE IS RELIGIOUS MASTURBATION.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION MEANS ALL RELIGIONS.
CONTROL THE CONTENTS OF YOUR OWN UTERUS.
YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO MY BODY.
IF POTENTIAL FOR LIFE EQUALED LIFE, EVERY WET DREAM WOULD BE GENOCIDE.
THE VALIDITY OF MY RELATIONSHIPS IS NOT YOURS TO DETERMINE.
YOUR GOD HAS NO AUTHORITY HERE.
IF EVERYONE THINKS THEY ARE RIGHT, AND EVERYONE DISAGREES, THEN EVERYONE IS WRONG.
YOUR DISCOMFORT WITH MY LIFE IS NOT MY PROBLEM.
MY ROLE IN LIFE IS NOT YOURS TO DETERMINE.
I AM NOT YOUR VESSEL.
STOP PUTTING WORDS INTO YOUR GOD’S MOUTH.
YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE IF I DESERVE A CHILD.
THE SHAPE OF MY BODY DOES NOT DETERMINE THE POWER OF MY MIND.
YOU DO NOT HAVE JURISDICTION OVER MY BODY.
YOUR DISCOMFORT IS NOT WORTH MY LIFE.

Edited to add:
This piece won the 2-D category at the 2010 Reproductive Justice Arts Extravaganza!

Prints of this piece are now available via Redbubble. Half the proceeds will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds.

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Half the Sky

A woman in profile, arm outstretched, fingers grasping and turned downward. Beneath her hand, the sun rises over the earth.


Half the Sky by Heather Keith Freeman
14″x17″, pen and ink on watercolor paper

This piece is inspired by the quote “Women hold up half the sky.” by Mao Tse Tung, and the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Kristoff & WuDunn. (The latter is an amazing book that I need to give a detailed review of at some point; I read it several months ago and am still processing.)

It is also the piece to which I was referring when I made this post, though as I hope is apparent it’s not what the piece is “about”.

From a process point of view, it was interesting. I usually start off with some kind of a concept, image, *something* – but not this time. I was stir crazy with not having ideas, and finally just sat down with my pad and drew the line curving from her outstretched arm down her body. I fleshed that out with the rest of the figure, and then spent an angstful day or two trying to figure out what was going in that big empty space beneath her hand. Was it a dancer’s gesture? Was she holding something up? Was there another person there? I wish I could remember now what some of the other things were I thought of putting there. But finally the earth came to mind, with the impression that she was holding it up, and that slotted neatly into the Mao quote and the book which had been on my mind anyway, and, well, there it was.

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Revealing Racism through Art

What with my becoming involved in the anti-racist and other social justice communities, and my ongoing work to call out privilege and prejudice within myself, I discovered I was tired of drawing white people.

Now, I’m white. And in art, as with writing, the repeated maxim is often “make what you know”. That’s one of the reasons I draw mainly women; I’m familiar with the way female bodies work on a deeper level from having inhabited one. (Also, they’re pretty. Though whether that opinion is a manifestation of internalized sexism is something I’m still working on.) And white women, well, again, I’m white. Plus I’ve recently realized going through my copious collection of naked-woman-photo books, almost all of them are white, especially the “photo reference for artists” type. Right there is a huge example of racism I never would have noticed a year ago.

Yeah, I was tired of drawing white people. And even more, I was newly aware of how problematic it was to make an unconscious assumption – not decision – to make the subject of my art white.

So this woman, I decided, would be black. A mild artistic challenge, since in black and white differences in skin color are not as apparent as they would be in color. But just approaching it with the mindset that she was black set off unexpected turmoil within me. Was I over-emphasizing her facial features? Was I sending a message by portraying a nude black woman that I wouldn’t send by portraying a nude white one? Did I even have the right to portray someone whose ancestors were enslaved, raped, and killed by my ancestors? By portraying someone constructed by society as Other, was I making this single person into a token, with every physical feature, gesture, and curve of limb somehow a commentary on her race as a whole?

Of course my first reaction was to explain it away, that I was just worried about what “people” would think, because “people” were unthinkingly racist, not me, oh no. But the sheer strength and volume of my internal reaction belied that explanation. I didn’t have these sorts of internal dialogues when drawing “Get it Out of Me“, despite my subject in that piece being significantly larger than I. The truth is I was being racist, and what’s more I was more concerned with the potential of being considered racist than with the art itself.

Our society is racist. We live and breathe racism every damned day, it’s embedded in our media and advertising and fashion and literature from the day we’re born. And as we are intertwined with our society, we cannot separate ourselves from the worst in it. The best I can think of to do is try to become aware of it, and to talk about the process. The silence around racism (unless it’s to decry it in other people or to declare America “post-racial“) is just as damaging as the racism itself, since it prevents us from moving forward.

The tagline of this blog is The intersection of art and activism. It isn’t just about creating pretty pictures to call out problems in the world outside. It’s also about the very difficult conversations the work creates within yourself, acknowledging that you’re just as broken as the society that made you, and trying to be better.

In conclusion, I should say that I am not posting this to collect anti-racist points, or to solicit validation from POC. I have done my best to talk about this in an honest and anti-racist manner, but I’m equally aware that I have probably fucked up in quite a few ways. I welcome commentary but do not expect teaching. The art in question I will post separately, as it ended up really being about something else entirely. (I’ve also decided it’s not, in fact, quite done yet.)

Edited to add: It’s done now, and posted here.

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