I feel grateful, as I often do when I finish a piece, but even more so this time as this piece was a big challenge intellectually and in technique, as well as the usual juggling of time, and space, and inclination to get everything done.
All summer the plan for this portrait eluded my conscious thought, and I worried a bit. I also have this habit of coming through under extensive pressure of fiercely immanent deadlines, so I wasn't too, too worried ... still, committing to have a piece of artwork and having no idea what would be in the space above my nameplate on the wall was a bit intimidating.
Well, I started doing research on my ... my guy, my sitter, my Guantanamo detainee, Adil Abdul Hakim, and I learned that, short version: he is a Chinese Muslim, was escaping persecution in China by going to Afghanistan in 2001, when all hell broke loose in New York, and was captured by the United States as he was trying to get out to Pakistan, and brought to Guantanamo. For four years. And then released because the U.S. decided that he and his companions were not actually terrorists after all. (Not like there was a trial or anything.) Anyway, having been persecuted in China, for being a Muslim essentially, he and the other men have now moved to Albania and are trying to make a new home there.
It was the story of his being kicked out, and wrongfully judged, and moving to a new land, a new culture, a new language that finally made me realize why I had picked this man's profile way back in the spring.
Long story, but suffice to say: I can relate.
I sew. I don't know how I decided to paint this portrait ... I had this little fluttering idea about collage and handpainted backgrounds in artist's journals that I had been seeing in art books here and there.
A grid. One of those images that either makes my breath catch or my heart pound. I'd use a grid. An image of a house/home. Images of where Adil had been on his journey. Some of the desert colored ochre that had so fascinated me, and I'd used in the art quilts that I had done about this war back in 2003. XinJiang Province in China is full of desert land. Words. It was clear to me that moving around like that has some desperate questions with panic-y, frantic ears hardly able to hear the answers. The words of the answers came, just as they always do when I remember to pray the questions: quietly, softly, surely. I typed them all out. I half traced, half drew Adil's portrait. I got out my acrylic gel medium and practiced what I had read about in books, techniques that again, either made my breath stop or my heart pound, and I started to paint ... collage ... glue.
And, I believe, it worked.
Hmmm.. the words didn't come through. Starting at the upper left and circling clockwise:
"Where do you go when they kick you out?
Say your prayers so that they have meaning for you.
What if someone gave your spirit a bad name?
We are the God of our understanding.
What if the only home available is in a different language?
What do you so when you are released?
Have compassion for yourself.
Who are you?"
So. Have a good day.