I've begun a quest to find a visual vocabulary for Black culture. I read an article about Designer Sadie Red Wing where she stressed using symbolism from her particular tribe rather than Pan-Indian symbolism and imagery that contributes to cultural stereotypes. When looking for imagery that related to my culture, I didn’t want to use Pan-African symbolism since I was unfamiliar with my African heritage. On the other hand, I felt as though symbolism from my Jamaican ancestry wouldn't be broad enough to represent Blackness as a whole and its role in American history. Thus, I consider myself a Black-American. Searching for “Black-American symbolism” while filtering out Pan-African imagery, I ran into the Black power fist and the neatly picked-out afro. I concluded that Black culture could be associated with activism and resistance against oppression.
Hence, this Black female activist dressed for battle, the odds already against her, a target locked. She is yet another potential victim of racial profiling, degradation, brutality, or worse. The activist walks into battle with her hands up, in surrender. This sign indicates cooperation, an attempt to avoid provocation from the enemy. Will she become another statistic or will she start a revolution?
Inspired by Natural Stylist Lisa Farrall's Armour Collection, the activist sports a triangular afro, the upside triangle symbolizing the feminine. News coverage of police shootings have often focused on the Black male victim overshadowing lesser known Black female victims – Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Darnisha Harris, Malissa Williams, Aliesha Thomas, Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Tarika Wilson, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnston, Alberta Spruill, Kendra James, Sandra Bland…
Color played an important role in this piece. Red symbolized danger, aggression, or the blood spilt by impulsive, ignorant pigs. Gold represented the rich African history from which the Black-American culture was birthed. The gold worn by our ancestors and their goddesses meant knowing our worth, that Black lives matter. Purple stood for enlightenment, seeing the world as it is, staying woke. Her turquoise armor symbolized calm in the face of danger.
During the course of this project, I followed a website that tracked death by police in 2017. When I had started, the deaths were at 95 on January 28, 2017. Only a day later, the number bumped up to 4. By the end of the project, the deaths surpassed 100. Now this site didn’t separate these deaths by race, gender, or innocence. It represented those killed, innocent and guilty, at the hands of police a month into the new year. These numbers symbolize the collective fear among citizens, although some marginalized groups have more reason to be afraid for their lives. Life starts to feel like target practice.