Grief is a tricky thing. It comes in waves, fogging our minds, leading us to believe we have the ability to make sense of it all. At times, we can be fully above it and see the clear picture ahead; At other times, it totally overcomes us. We are in the middle of the ocean, without hope or belief that we will ever set sight on land.
Throughout this quarantine, I have ridden the waves leading me to both destinations. I have watched the mistreatment of black and brown bodies, and have felt like I had no control; the four walls of my room, protecting me from the world quickly becoming barricades keeping me from protecting it.
If you are like me, in the midst of this wild ride, you are also longing for “normal.” For things to just go back to the way they were. I said this aloud to myself a couple of weeks ago, and right as it came out of my mouth I realized it wasn’t what I wanted at all. As a matter of fact, a disruption to the normal is what I had been praying for. So how do I push through this? Well, there is only one way: Turn this collective grief (rage) into a creative riot.
First let's talk about what it isn't: A creative riot is not an avoidance of care for self. It is not a gathering of people running into a cave, leaving the cares of the world behind in hopes of hunkering down and spitting out tons of creative work. It isn’t about quantity at all; or the production of a huge body of work. It isn’t ignoring the grief and rage and the inevitable healing that must take place in order for us to be transformed. It isn’t a competition. Nor is it, a constant looking to the left and right and comparing our ability to be productive in the middle of a pandemic. It isn’t taking this comparison and using it to motivate us. It is not a race. A creative riot is quite the opposite. It’s many things, but here are four things I think should be noted in defining it:
It’s A Movement: The Front-facing Harlem Renaissance ended because of the Great Depression and policies that kept black business’ from thriving. What we know is that the Renaissance lived on in the shelter of black homes as we toiled over what it would mean to be free and equal. To not be limited in our possibilities artistic or otherwise and to fight for new policies that allow for these liberties. That movement still lives on in us today, shooting through us. Grafted onto the systems of our bodies. It reminds us to stay uncomfortable as long as injustice runs rampant. As long as the black body cannot experience the same freedoms granted to white bodies. We must connect ourselves to this timeline and draw on the wisdom of those before us to empower us; relooking at the work of Ida B. Wells, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Fannie Hamer, and all of our ancestors who, knowingly, fought for freedoms beyond their timeline of life. It’s been our turn to pick up the baton, and now with space and time, we can honestly ask ourselves, what am I waiting for and run the race set before us.
It is collective: If you are like me, you probably idolized cultural movements of yesterday. Indulging in the freedoms they have granted you, never imagining you would experience one that presented such an opportunity as those past. The Harlem Renaissance of the 20’s, The Black Arts Movement of the 60’s/70’s, The Feminist Arts Movement also of the 60’s/70’s, these movements forced folk to grab hands with one another and with other culture shapers, like scientist, politicians, and philosophers, in moments of oppression to create a change in the way people saw and experienced the world. This meeting of the minds produced a 4-D model of the complex oppression they were experiencing, allowing them the ability to see things from every angle and therefore inform each of their work, in each of their fields in new and insightful ways. I believe this pandemic is leading us into a Technological Renaissance. A “rebirth” in the way we engage with technology. So the question I ask myself is how do I move forward the fight for justice as a black artist within this “rebirth.” If we don’t reach out and grab one another’s hands and the hands of other culture shapers, we might be stuck in trying to find a “normal” that will never again be and miss out on the opportunity to shape the way art is experienced for generations to come.
It’s fuel is our grief and rage: As artists we are historically on the front lines when it comes to culture care. We use our gifts to humanize societies and bring a tool kit of language to help folk sort through the complex emotional journey they are on and teach them how to express themselves. That is our job. To remind creation of its ability to feel; and necessity thereto. Through our art we give the world permission to feel and express, things untapped, in a way that leads to more life. That is our “why.” Because that is our why, it is important to keep an alive heart, and to care for yourself, the way a surgeon cares for his healing hands. To welcome in whatever arises in this journey and to keep it safe as fuel for creativity. Not ignore it, or blow it off.
It Responds: With this fuel, and with this grasping of hands, we then move forward in response. Not in a way that is utilitarian, but intrinsic to our identity as black creatives. We utilize the 4-D model we created with other culture shapers, and we ruminate on it’s data. We ask the questions and come to uncomfortable conclusions that aren’t always accessible to the scientist, politician, preacher, and philosopher. We find ourselves in the gray. A place where artists thrive. In this place, in this sacred place of tension that we typically call: the unknown, is where we find wonder and possibility. This is where we create and that is how we respond.
The reality is there are far more steps than the four I have listed, and even more to each point, but what I believe is, wherever you are in the process, you are on your way to being a creative riot. Unstoppable in how you will, together in community, shift culture and change the way art changes people. Let’s grab hands and take our place in the war against black bodies; transforming our collective grief (rage) into a creative riot.