I just recently found out about the phenomenon of National Batman Day. I have no idea where it originated (though if you are a true Batman fanatic, I love to learn!), but from reading I've done on the Internet, I've learned that it is somewhat a gimmick to make some money.
With that in mind, I'd like to use the National Batman platform to bring to the forefront a major issue concerning our country, and to release a painting I've been sitting on for a while, waiting to release:
I do not feel authorized to write this. I am not black. I am not an expert. The thought of releasing this, and the potential of joining this conversation gives me as much anxiety as it does quiet anticipation. But I have to.
I could tell you my background, growing up in a rural, impoverished town in South Carolina attending an elementary school that was 98% black, living among the racism that still flourished strong in the early 1990's. Maybe that would lend some experience to this conversation? But that feels just as "gimmicky" as the thought of National Batman Day taking advantage of one of the greatest, most noble, and most complex superheroes ever created.
This conversation deserves more. I want to tell you about my work. I want to tell you what inspired it. But I want to do so assuring you that I am ignorant, and full of a desire to learn about a very complex issue, and to do my part in contributing to a shout that is reverberating around this country.
This piece started as a conversation between myself and a good friend shortly after the nation began to focus on what have become all to common "officer involved" killings. I expressed to her my helplessness, and she challenged me to create something. At first, I defended the police. Surely police aren't all bad, right? Surely these are the bad minority sampling of the greater good. Then, a young boy was shot in a Cleveland park. I learned of more and more killings: all completely unjustifiable; all without the benefit of the doubt. I learned that the black community would rather call a friend in an emergency than a cop. I learned about "the talk" mothers and fathers give their children about the way the world works. I opened my eyes.
The above video is what ignited the concept of the painting. I couldn't help put myself in the shoes of the young men who thought of "hero" when they thought of "police". The innocence that forms their worldview is so beautiful, and so precious, and it is destroyed by age and experience. Why?
Like many people in the world, I love a good hero, and no hero exemplifies the ideal of "policeman" like Batman. What would he say about the state of policing today? These hypotheticals sound so silly out loud, but maybe these are the questions we should be asking. We've lost innocence.
We've all had our eyes opened... unless we choose to keep them shut in ignorance, staring happily at the shadows and shades of illusion, when vibrant color, beauty, and culture lives and dies right outside our selected field of vision.
I have showed very few people this piece, and have asked the guidance of even fewer. But to those who have put themselves into this emotionally just as much as I - or more - I cannot express enough gratitude. This is so much bigger than me, or you, or Batman.
If you are interested in a print of this piece, I do not have them yet, but I am exploring crowdfunding options to disseminate this painting the way I feel it deserves. Please show your interest by commenting, or sending me an e-mail. Should enough of you respond, I will begin raising money for the process, and a large percent of my profits will go to Art180 in Richmond, VA: a local non-profit organization that helps children in tough environments express themselves creatively.
I am giving the final words of this blog to one of my dearest friends. She has put up with my ignorance, and my questions, and has tolerantly observed my heart: a practice we should all embrace.
"Art has always been scary to me, in any form, because it removed my ability to control emotions that I worked hard not to publicly demonstrate. I know that most artists create from the voice that they want to express but I also knew that this artist had the delicate responsibility of emitting kindness without judgment, question without privilege and love while acknowledging what many have experienced through hate. This is a recounting of the emotions that I experienced upon seeing this finished work.
There is a cry that is emphasized by tears, broken faces, and overwhelming emotions; the cry that will cause you to turn away to protect your vain idea of how you should appear in the midst of emotion. The cry that allows you to have thoughts that are cohesive and perhaps even calculated. And then there is the cry that is uninhibited, unexpected, and silent. The cry that comes from buried, unexplored pain. The cry that comes from actualizing the burden that others have been feeling. Perhaps even the cry of the empath. Although I didn’t recognize it as such, this is the cry that I experienced when I had the opportunity to privately view what I will call the superhero piece.
This work brought to the forefront of my consciousness the pain that I had been experiencing by proxy. Newspaper articles, pleading voices of crying mothers, the anger of people consistently misunderstood and returned anger of people lacking the ability to understand, based on clouded judgment or my perception of such, flooded my mind and I cried. This painting made me think of the young man with the five letter name that I won’t attach to the piece out of respect for both his family and the artist who may not have had him in mind during the creative process. I wanted to feel empathy for the hero of the past, the boy in blue who patrolled my eighties Brooklyn neighborhood, the saviors based on my “Law and Order” addiction but I was swayed by the knowledge of today’s happenings, hashtag activism and pain that couldn’t be explained or justified. I asked myself and I ask you, where are the Heroes? Do they exist? Are we willing to see them and is there a compromise? I know that the last question will be answered with, 'Yes! Less unjustified, dead bodies.'
Ideas are generated and destroyed by emotion and this piece exemplifies that for me. While I wait for the answers and think about “what I can do next”, I look at this work, inhale sorrow, and exhale the desire to see improvement. I listen to BIack Star albums and write to the emphatic, confident, almost accusatory tones of Talib Kweli and Mos Def. I exhale the belief that #notallcops will truly be demonstrated in a way that results in less battered bodies, less bloodshed, more understanding, and voices that represent the goodness of the masses. The artist may or may not have been feeling any of the things that slammed into my chest when I saw this piece but I thank him for giving me the opportunity to cry unashamed and to realize that my responsibility has to extend beyond words delivered from my keyboard." - Stephanie Bryant