“Don’t you think we need a party?” I asked because I like asking questions I fully intend on answering myself.
I was eating eggs and drinking gin in Mississippi with my friend Molly and excitedly pitching my party plans. Earlier in the summer, I became obsessed with the idea of throwing what I began to think of as a celebration of the resistance. A celebration that we’re still here and not going anywhere, and of the art that I’ve spent the past year creating.
I began work on my current series, Icons and Illuminations, immediately after the election of Donald Trump. Like many people, I spent the weeks after the election in a haze. But, I’m an artist so I went to work in the haze. Inspired by the water protectors at Standing Rock, I created artworks that I hoped would honor the beauty and resiliency present in the world even when everything seemed to be coming apart at the seams. I created artwork of people fleeing Syria and the courageous white helmets leading them out of Aleppo. Of badass Afghan women practicing Kung Fu. Of badass women all over the world marching together after the inauguration. And of mothers holding their children.
In late July, I created an icon of a mother comforting her trans son during the 30 day special session of the Texas legislature which was being used to debate transphobic “bathroom bills.” In a lovely bit of synchronicity the mother portrayed in the artwork reached out to me and asked if I’d sell prints of the icon to benefit Equality Texas. I had similarly sold the Standing Rock artworks with the proceeds benefiting the Standing Rock Sioux. By summer’s end I had close to 20 artworks and raised $1,200 for different social justice organizations through the sale of both original pieces and prints.
An idea began to form. What about a blowout celebration at the one-year anniversary of the election to sell the remaining artworks in the series – turning the whole project into a gift to the continued resistance? I’ve long been obsessed by the happenings of the 1960s, of the joyous and raucous beauty activists found even amidst the horror of the Vietnam War.
This was the party I was planning with Molly over a boozy brunch. It was Saturday, August 12th and it wasn’t until I returned home to Memphis in the late afternoon that I learned of the murder of Heather Heyer. Over the course of the next 72 hours with President Trump’s hateful defense of the “very fine people” responsible for the death of our sister in the resistance, the idea that there might be anything worth celebrating fell completely apart.
Eventually, art brought me back to the idea. After all, the impetus behind Icons and Illuminations was not just to lament and memorialize – though many of the pieces do just that – but to lift up and to honor the exquisite strength of ordinary people in an extraordinary time.
I set a date for a celebration and reserved a location – my favorite pizza place, a black-owned business that serves a delicious vodka treat called Punch Nazi Punch. Where else could I throw a resistance celebration but at Octavia Young’s Midtown Crossing Bar and Grill, the site of so many incredible community gatherings?
Since putting into motion my party plans, three hurricanes have struck the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. Still, I forged ahead with my party planning – while creating two icons to benefit hurricane recovery. Last weekend, I started gearing up for what I hoped would be a big, fun announcement: It’s party time, y’all!
I created a Facebook event replete with pretty photos and was ready to click “invite” first thing Monday morning. And upon waking, I learned that more than 500 people had been injured and almost 60 killed in a massacre in Las Vegas. And the idea that there might be anything to celebrate once again seemed like the worst type of sacrilege.
All week I fretted. And everyone I talked to was fretting. Fretting about how to grieve. Fretting about how to act. Fretting about what it means to pray for peace when “thoughts and prayers” has become near blasphemy. And the more I sat with folks this week in their fretting, their sadness, and their powerlessness, the more convinced I became that, in times like these, celebration is subversion.
So, this is your formal invitation to celebrate YOUR STRENGTH, YOUR RESILIENCE, and YOUR LOVELINESS. We’ll gather on Friday, November 10th at Midtown Crossing Grill from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. There will be lots of artwork for sale (prints and originals), all with proceeds benefitting the continued work of resistance. There will be music. There will be community. And there will be Punch Nazi Punch to drink.
If you can’t make it out to the celebration, the artwork will be on display from Friday, November 3rd – Friday, December 1st. And, if you’d like to purchase a piece, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org