Friday, May 17, 2013

The art of history

Art should make you think. And I am embarking on a new project - an installation piece for the Award Winners Show at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, DE, a show it's a great honour to be in. My first ever installation piece, no less. I am very excited about this piece - it is on the Underground Railroad. It is the anniversary of the Civil War, the Underground Railroad and the indomitable Harriet Tubman. I was born and raised in South Africa, now living in Delaware - which was part of the escape route of the railroad, and I am working with Zulu women in South Africa on The Vukuzakhe Project. It is the full circle of women helping women.
I gave a lot of thought to how to do the piece and decided on burlap. I use burlap a lot in my art anyway and it is a very ethnic fabric. There will be seven to nine 3-foot pieces hanging from the ceiling, each piece will be a different colour from dark to light. I intend to attach paintings/sketchs in charcoal, watercolour and acrylic on paper and canvas depicting the trip. Each piece will be weighted with chain to start finishing with sand.
There is a lot of symbolisim in this installation and I hope it will pack a powerful punch.
What I hadn't anticipated was how hard it is to paint. Depicting scenes of slavery is painful and difficult, but history must be told. I struggled with TVP because of my intense attachment, memories and love of Africa. The whole continent is in disarray and trouble and struggling with diseases right now - depicting the torment of AIDS in KwaZulu Natal cut to my soul. But there is always hope. And there are always people ready to stand up and do something positive to change the way things are - I needed to think that to complete TVP. I can see I am going to have to think like that again.
The outcome of the Underground Railroad is positive - freedom came, change came - slowly but it did, and continues. This is what I need to keep in mind. Otherwise it would be very depressing to work on - at least this piece finishes in the light and with freedom.
I do believe this installation piece will make people think. Dare I hope? Perhaps, especially, it will make young people realize what history there is and what it means.

trying to get a feel for it
a sketch for the first panel
all art © Anne Jenkins

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