TITLE: ART I WOKE (2018)
ARTIST: Abby Kamen
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas. 16 x 20 in.
STORY: The image for this painting came to me in July when I was walking through the streets of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It’s a favorite town of mine from my childhood that still holds the nostalgic capture of a Norman Rockwell painting. The American flag was draped from the flag pole of nearly every home and shop. The lawns bore signs “Drive like your children live here.” Probably more a universal directive than just an automotive reminder to not go gunning through the streets of this quaint town.
It was a stark contrast to the previous night spent attending an outstanding performance of Hamilton. The show and the streets both connected to a place deep within me. One, a bombastic portrayal of our nation through the lens of the melting pot meant to be our true identity, not the one we actually lived. The other, a reflection of what we thought we lived, but did we? Together the combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly - poignantly showcasing who we are while leaving where we are going aptly uncharted.
I felt like an artichoke in a washing machine. I was having a hard time finding which way was up. I was coming clean - intentionally peeling back the layers of me to get to the heart of my soul and that of humanity.
When I arranged the still life in September, I was guided to pair the artichoke and washing machine with the flag and Erin Gruwell’s book Freedom Writer’s Diary. The book is the product of her transformative educational practice in the wake of the brutal death of Rodney King and the riots that ensued in Los Angeles. An idealist young teacher at the time, she reached her students living in situations plagued with despair and racial intolerance by connecting the violence of the street to that of the Holocaust. Inspired by The Diary of Anne Frank, she champion their dignity with the gift of a pen. The book became a movie and her mission continues to today.
Since my work is channeled, the significance of the art reveals itself later. The relevance is uncanny and painful.
October held yet another devastating reminder of the anger, bigotry, and violence swelling in our country. In a matter of days our nation witnessed bomb threats to political figures of the Democratic Party, the slaying of two black individuals at a grocery store in Louisville, and the massacre of eleven Jews attending Shabbat services in Pittsburg, with more wounded. Reminders of the Holocaust and our pledge, never again.
I was both horrified and comforted by the varying responses to the atrocities. You do not need me to spell out the frightening ones, for therein is how these events happened in the first place. We must focus on the responses of hope and determination. Many came from you, the next generation. As they should. This is yours to carry. It’s not a multiple choice question.
Through me, the Universe wants to gift you the pen Gruwell offered her students. Be brave enough to join her. Be brave enough to write a new script for the America we can be. The one that includes all of us. The one that ensures our safety. The one that provides equality of gender and sexual orientation, freedom of religion, and harmony amongst our rainbow of colors. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can be our truth, you will need to make it so.
Don’t let these events fill you with fear, let them motivate you to create the future you want to live in. There is no time in the past that held peace. It is inaccurate to think otherwise. Know that it is within your power to break through the past and pave the road to a peaceful future. Like me, my children have found their six sense connection and I share their words when relevant. They are your peers - a reflection of you. I “repost” their thoughts below.
Prepare to move the mountain holding humanity back from being human.
Prepare to be woke.
You are the hope and the time is now.