by Melissa Kandido
For this ARTicle, I stand at the threshold betwixt and between my brainspace and my heARTspace. My brain seems to live in various geographical locations simultaneously. I am from the States, so Baltimore, Freddie Gray, BlackLivesMatter and the entire history of my country has been on my mind. I live in Namibia but lived in Zimbabwe at one time and have traveled through South Africa, so xenophobia is on my mind. I pay attention to world news, so Nepal’s earthquake victims, the Yemenis, are on my mind.
With all of this on my mind, bell hooks’ Art on My Mind holds a strong space for me in terms of the epistemological underpinnings of how we frame our discussions of identities, social contextual under- and over-standings, and the spaces we occupy in cross-sectionalities. When we as individuals stand at the threshold of multiple spaces, we breathe in the liminal air and make decisions. When do we stand and observe the art of life? When do we decide to fully engage and cross the threshold?
In essence, my aestheticized art-thoughts have been marginalized by both the academic abstractions of these major events in the world as well as how the media chooses to portray them. The choice of representation is an interesting privilege most do not investigate but hooks has been instrumental in opening my vantage point to include the “politics of seeing” not just the art in our life, but the images from photographers, the words as images, and I hold them close in my visual universe (as hooks was taught by her father’s cousin.)
“Life taught me that being an artist was dangerous” (hooks, pg. 1 Art on My Mind.)
There is danger in maintaining a gaze-distance from the art of life no matter how it presents itself. There is a tiresome danger in living in the liminal betwixt-and-between-ness. The danger lies in being affected by many catalysts at once – and it is how these news stories are being represented that seems dangerous as well. For in that danger lies ANGER – it is, only one letter off: (d)anger(ous) and I have to wonder if that is a linguistic happenstance or purposeful insertion?
The framing of news stories is an art of journalism, an art of photography, an art that seems to misrepresent, under-represent and silence a balance of voices. As an art-lover, an artist, an art teacher, a believer in art, I must simultaneously believe in the humanity of what we create, but when it is perpetuating imagery of inhumanity, my brain unravels. “Representation is a crucial location of struggle for any exploited and oppressed people asserting subjectivity and decolonization of the mind” (hooks, pg. 1 Art on My Mind.)
Moreover, there is danger in crossing the threshold, but art helps us do just that. I take liberty here to tell you about an intersectional collaborative art project that my 7th grade students created with university students. We were not just cross-generational in our learning but there were over eleven nationality and seventeen languages in the artspace we created. At the culmination of a
unit about Islamic Art and Architecture, we studied various doorways as thresholds to our homes, our sanctuaries, our rooms, our hearts and our minds. The students created metaphorical doors with imagery and words that the viewer could choose to leave closed, open, leave ajar, stand at the threshold or walk through. The piece was 6 meters in length and included 47 thresholds to be displayed at the university’s annual international festival. Forty-seven representations of dangerous liminality posing the opportunity for the public to enter the political. What was bigger than the piece itself were the conversations in which students engaged, because it broke down the gaze. The discourse pushed past the liminal.
Art opens our mind, body and soul up and exposes flesh, blood, veins, bones and lifeforce of our societies and our cultures. The politics become the art and can get in the way of art and can be inspiration for art – all simultaneously for art is never either/or, it is always both/and. There is no dichotomy in art, for art is pluralistic when we allow it to be, when we give it breadth and depth to be. So I ask that we enter a space that is the “radical counter-hegemonic politics of the visual” to which hooks refers in order to inspire a broader discussion that is inclusive of combating our judgmental gaze.
When art is on my mind, I am ever-present and alive with hope. When art is on my mind, I find the distractions of politicized media coverage more bearable. When art is on my mind, my brain is balanced and it makes way for clear thoughts. For it is in our personal acknowledgements of our humanity that brings art alive—the art of living and transforming the difficult truths of our existence “…the way in which experiencing art can enhance our understanding of what it means to live as free subjects in an unfree world” (hooks, pg. 9 Art on My Mind.)
I, like many of you, know that living dangerously as an artist, crossing thresholds set before me is better than living in anger without an artistic doorway to walk through.