When I saw artist, organizer and radical librarian April Parker on the cover of Triad City Beat, our local independent publication in Greensboro, NC, I was immediately struck with a desire to draw her. She was poised elegantly and forthrightly on an outdoor site that had been emptied of its Confederate statue. She was reclaiming this space, centering the Black experience in American history, for her performance art piece "Unveiling Monuments." Parker created this work as the inaugural Creative Catalyst Fellow at Elsewhere Museum, a thrift store turned collaborative artist residency space and museum, in downtown Greensboro.
A few weeks after I had this vision, Matthew Giddings, Elsewhere's executive director, reached out to me to commission a gift of artwork for April to recognize her fellowship work. He gave me Sankofa as the theme -- the west African word which means " to go back, to retrieve." It speaks to the continuity of connection between ancestors and the living. I didn't tell him about the vision I had; in fact, I played coy and offered to sell him a print from my Motherland Speaks series. He told me he'd be happy to promote the series, but he wanted a one-of-a-kind gift for April. I accepted the commission and got to work.
The Artwork and My Artistic Process
My approach to this commission was to view more images of Parker's performance work for Unveiling Monuments. I watched a Facebook Live video of her discussing accountability for systemic inequality with Triad City Beat reporter Sayaka Matsuoka as she stood in front of the International Civil Rights Museum. She had just shutdown Elm Street, downtown Greensboro's main thoroughfare, by bringing a group of Black women to stand in the street in front of the museum and having Giddings block traffic with his car. I screenshot multiple images of her interview in that moment and created a photo collage of captured shots.
I chose undiluted, jet black Sumi ink and a fragment of broken glass pipette (bottom left photo) to record an image of her in a 12” x 16” portrait (upper left photo). I chose this piece of broken glass pipette as my drawing tool because Parker speaks the wounds of Black people in America, and to demonstrate that something beautiful can emerge from something broken. I also used a foam-tipped instrument for accent line work in this piece. The eye symbols you see in April’s upper torso were an intuitive addition, and she is adorned with marks reminiscent of African bib necklaces. I was struck by April’s fierce beauty in the video, and I wanted to capture and honor that beauty. I hope you feel my love and admiration for April’s spirit when you look at this representation of her. Her work with Unveiling Monuments resonated with me, and I felt seen and heard as a Black American woman through her performance art.
I also created a smaller piece (upper right photo) which includes an image of April in front of the International Civil Rights Museum on the day of the Unveiling Monuments Elm Street shutdown. I layered on top of April’s figure multiple hand-drawn digital images of the traditional Sankofa bird to create a suit of armor for April. This use of the bird imagery invokes ancestral protection for April for her artwork and life journey. I offer April a sense of purpose that may constrain her, but also serves as a source of comfort and support as she acts as a warrior of truth and generational healing.
Gift-Giving Ceremony @ Elsewhere
Artist to Artist April and Matthew Libation Essentials
This commission was truly a case of convergence between April, Matthew and I. And on a sunny, cold February afternoon, it all culminated with a gift-giving session on the back patio behind Elsewhere Museum. I opened the event with a pouring of libation to invoke the ancestors, and unveiled the artwork to a teary-eyed, happy and surprised April. This commission also heralded April's transition to a deeper role within Elsewhere's administration. I was honored to be part of this process, and feel a sense of artistic and personal fulfillment from creating these pieces. The experience felt historic on many levels. You can read the complete media release to learn more about April Parker, Elsewhere Museum and link to the complete gift-giving ceremony video.