Hooded Peace Café and Poetry
We were recently gifted with another amazing set of responses to "Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies*, from audience and artists alike at our in-theater Peace Café with poetry, painting, and gut-wrenching play analysis! Thank you to all who participated in this moving and illuminating event.
NJ Mitchell, Simply Sherri, and Sasha Sinclair
By Simply Sherri
we need to love each other out loud stop keeping our affection for our men a secret we owe it to the world we have to show the world they need to know if something happens to a black man any black man someone loves that man that man is needed
he's that friend who's shoulder you can cry on he's a mentor freely giving advice he is his community organizer he's the guy who's sisters best friends grandmother can call to just change a light bulb
the neighborhood boy that use to cut the neighborhood grass now grown-up that still comes around to ask do you need your grass cut he's someone's favorite cousin he's integral to the family he was supporting the mother who birthed him the grandmother who's expecting him for Sunday dinner
in 2018 there is no place he's not supposed to be he's not a threat when he's playing by himself he's not a threat when he is handling his business waiting for friends and coffee working out in the gym standing in his backyard on his front porch BBQing in a park walking minding his business
no, they all may not be angels or pillars of the community however that one’s bad deeds does not spoil the bunch either way, his life has value more than any moment of fear can encapsulate
he's part of a story that only 3 to 4 people and god know brings someone to tears in amusement just thinking about it that laughter is someone's favorite sound that man has a partner he's making memories with someone prays over him someone will cry for him the twinkle in someone's eye his smile lights a room his heartbeat is someone's lullaby he's the exasperated daddy answering 5000 questions his disappearance will leave an unfillable hole
he's the love of someone's life he is needed he is wanted he is loved he’s just not a body he is somebody’s
© Simply Sherri 2018
“Hooded Mirror (Ghosts)” – 2018, Acrylic ink, charcoal, graphite, and mirrored paper mounted on foam board by Sasha Sinclair
To bear witness to Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s avant guard and unvarnished commentary on the nexus of how to define blackness and the rampant criminalization of that blackness is to confront a crisis. This crisis is not only social, cultural and political, but it’s also personal. This is a reality that you want to change. The problem is well documented but what is the solution? What part do we individually play in problem and solution of the killing of unarmed black men?
Searching for the answer to these questions guided my artistic response. I don’t seek to give the viewer an answer but ask they use the art to find their own answers. To begin, I believe it requires us to hold up a mirror to our individual and collective selves. I knew a mirror had to be included in the piece. I also meditated on the hoodie as a symbol. The use of the hoodie as referenced in the title of the play and the iconic symbol of solidarity, resistance and protest it has become since the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Combining these two elements resulted in my art work “Hooded Mirror (Ghosts), 2018.” It is not only a piece of reaction but also of interaction. Presented to the viewer is a drawing of a stylized hooded figure. Here it is presented in a frontal view as a symbol of the black “Everyman.” In place of a face, there is a mirror. The proverbial “holding a mirror up to society” is now a literal thing. Viewers are invited to step up and see their reflection in the mirror. Mirrors have been used throughout art history as a comment on self- knowledge, judgement and vanity. Here I use it to humanize the wearer of the hoodie and break down the stereotypes that white fragility has laid upon black men by seeing the black man’s humanity through their own. We are them. They are us. We are one. Can we overcome our bias to see that?
The parenthetical title of “Ghosts” (written across the chest of the hooded figure in overlapping block letters) refers to how this racist criminalization of black men, women, girl and boys are making ghosts of them too soon. This is happening through their outright deaths or by them “ghosting” themselves by hiding from society, seeking to hide within this singular garment that blends in even as its minimalist silhouette makes them stand out. This hiding further isolates them and begins this downward spiral to being cornered like the fox – mentioned in the one of the “rules” in Tru’s “Being Black for Dummies” – and lashing out in a way that is misunderstood by law enforcement which offers another excuse to consider black people as “dangerous.” This leads to more killing which is a modern form of lynching which is alluded to by the one of the hoodie’s black draw strings forming a noose at the end.
Upon further viewing the hoodie, I also want wanted the viewer to go beyond this context and consider the symbolism that the hoodie has carried in contemporary mythmaking. Think of fictional characters that also wear hoodies or hooded garments: Rocky Balboa – the underdog boxer, Luke Skywalker – the Jedi, Gandalf - the Wizard from Lord of the Rings. We cheer for these archetypal characters as heroes with extraordinary powers to overcome adversity and win in the end. Can we do the same thing for black men? It wasn’t until the rediscovery of Luke Cage, the bullet-proof superhero of Marvel Comics, in his hoodie that we had a chance to think this was possible.
Normally my art is saturated with bright colors, but I resisted the urge to use color in any way. Instead I used varying grades of pencil to create shades of grey. This adds to the ghostly appearance of the hoodie but also comments on the absence of a simple “black and white” problem with a simple solution. It is nuanced and shifting.
Finally, I wanted to put this work in context of history. Behind the hooded figure, there are others as presented by the shifting and shaded arcs that peak out and around the hoodie. This was inspired by the staging of the final moments of the play when we see Marquis in a white hoodie with a group behind him in black hoodies, all with their hands up. I wanted to acknowledge the unknown names of those of the African diaspora who had suffered and died – the ghosts of uncountable multitudes impacted by the brutality of colonization, slavery, apartheid and structural oppression that give racism its oxygen. Their humanity, their legacy is in our hands now. How do we respond?