Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists

By Jontyle Theresa Robinson | Go to book overview

AFTERWORD

PEARL CLEAGE

I AM always amazed that in the face of magic, there are those who will feel safe only by retreating to arenas where the spirit is expected to express itself exclusively through the intellect. It's not that I don't understand the impetus. I do. Magic is a powerful and mysterious thing, not without its own set of requirements for satisfactory engagement. The problem is, those requirements are rarely based on things that can be expressed in ways that are also magical, transcendent, embracing more than we see or touch or hear or taste or smell. Magic opens doors to things we always knew because we carry the code in our bones, passing it along as blood memory and the murmured dreams of ancestors.

Perhaps it is the undeniable presence of all those bones, and all that blood, that creates a discomfort capable of finding solace only in the consideration of questions like whether or not race or gender is of primary concern when finding oneself among conjure women. The translation and transformation of our black, female memories have, in truth, less to do with a struggle to answer such questions and more to do with understanding that it is as impossible to do so as it is to decide which is more important to the body, the lungs or the liver.

We were not, after all, brought here to make magic. We were brought here to make babies for sale and pick other people's cotton and keep another woman's house and not run screaming into the darkness when her husband kicked in our cabin door at midnight just because he could.

In the midst of such madness, we were not supposed to make art any more than we were supposed to love each other. We were supposed to work ourselves to death and take our stories to the grave, leaving behind a legacy no more akin to the rich complexity of human herstory than a mule or a chicken.

But those with such nefarious intentions did not know the power of our mothers and our grandmothers and their grandmothers and their great-grandmothers before them, all the way back across that watery trail of anguished African bones to the shores of the continent that surrendered us to the barbarity of this strange new world. They could not have known that, still marooned here all these years later, we would now defiantly produce a community of sister artists who can tell the story straight in a visual language as specific as their own shimmery individual ideas and images and styles but, somehow, as immediately familiar, and as true, as if we had shared their dreams.

Which brings us back to the magic connecting and sustaining us across barriers of race and class and age and gender, where the miracle of our shared, fragile, imperfect humanity allows us to view this amazing work and be consumed by it, scattering the ashes of our old selves into the winds of the change that means growth, and the growth that means freedom.

-161-

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