Long before the Covid-19 global pandemic shut down everyday life as we know it, I’d been having a conversation about the importance of slowing down in order to allow more reflection about my life, interests and legacy. My studio is a sacred place for my own growth, reflection and development. It is also a space I hold for others- clients, community members, and student participants: to engage in a similar process. In fact, I had determined that this year (“2020- my year for clear vision and laser focus on goals”) my art practice would focus on three areas that I find to be interconnected along with another area I choose to explore in an expressive way: 1.) Telling stories connected to the work of women’s hands, particularly textile work 2.) Continuing to develop my work and skill building around indigo, and the color blue and 3.) Telling the stories of the women and children who cultivated indigo, one of the cash crops that jump ignited the American economy and transformed the United States into an early superpower (Shields, 2020).
These ideas organically lead to my paying more attention to women’s labor and the control of women’s bodies/and the exploitation of their labor. As a doctoral student I learned the importance of telling a story through a certain lens, as well as teasing out a small slice of vast information in order to research it thoroughly. So, my interest at this time is in exploring my art practice goals through the lens of Black women and girls, because our voices were often marginalized or silenced throughout history, and because they continue to be so. I believe that for Black women, often the very act of rest is empowering freedom and is often an act of resistance to societal norms.
In late winter of 2020, I facilitated a Blue Prints class in my studio. My classes involve an expressive, interactive, meditative process involving poetry, reflection, and community building. In this particular class, participants leave with handmade, abstracted and intuitive blue- themed memories abstracted into cotton textile prints. A racially and economically diverse selection of 5 women and one man enrolled, but due to life circumstances and serendipity, 3 diverse Black women showed up as participants to class. What happened was what is always a magical process: the women bonded, shared stories, worked together, and allowed time to stand still as they entered the process of “flow”. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory, (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), flow is the state of heightened concentration and engagement that can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one’s skills. My classes are designed to help participants access this state. They become absorbed in work that supports allowing their bodies to engage in a restful activity that was not attached to a prescribed period of rest such as a vacation or traditional time allotted for grooming, and the typical rest from home responsibilities. This was sacred time spent with other women in retreat; sharing stories, affirming and supporting one another, and girding the soul and spirit- just for the sake of it. Each woman was able to connect and listen to her inner voice and reflect about the amount time served for others, and time involved in obligatory activities, work often performed to the detriment of themselves. Each woman expressed realizing the importance of slowing down, without the need to justify it. Each realized the importance of taking time to rest- and how elusive rest can be. Typically they leave energized and with a heightened sense of confidence. My hope is for participants to leave the experience with more creative expression, deeper reflection and an increased capacity to creatively problem solve from a new perspective.
The women created sacred bonding time. For Black women, our time away from work is especially important. Historically our foreparents’ arrival to this country primarily came through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, although that is not everyone’s history. As time went on we were born here as descendants of enslaved people. Later we came as immigrants, or we may have arrived as contracted skilled laborers imported from other countries. In our roles as academics, as corporate leaders, as factory workers, as front line health care workers or in various capacities as domestic workers- our time has always equated in some manner to our historic relationship with money, and our unique place in fueling the economy. Our hard work has caused others to have more leisure. Thus, the idea of “free time” is often an elusive reality for many of us. The flip side of this that our time as women has not traditionally been valued monetarily, so we end up giving a lot of “free” time in the workplace, caring for others and in our homes. For Black women, our time and contributions have been further devalued. We must to reclaim it. We must value our time, and demand it in our spheres.
I am committed to finding and maintaining ways to value my own time, to practice self care and allow myself to rest- with no excuses or justifications. Let’s be mindful of the importance of flow, of connections, and of slowing down. I resist the standard that says my freedom is secured by trading most my time for dollars. I resist that I must always be in a constant state of hustle, and work myself to the point of exhaustion only to end up with compromised health, unfulfilled dreams, and wishing for more time at the end. Even and especially in the age of social distancing and new methods of navigating our lives- I choose rest. For Black women, and for myself, rest is resistance. Rest is revolutionary. Rest is worth fighting for.
Shields, J. (2020). The dark history of indigo, slavery’s other cash crop. Retrieved from https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/world-history/indigo.htm
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row.
Textile surface design classes will resume this summer depending on Covid-19 recommendations.
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