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  • Writer's picturePamela Lawton

Retablos of Resistance

The year 2020 has had a rocky start. Here we are at the halfway point, and the world has experienced a global pandemic (COVID-19) killing hundreds of thousands, and protests against violence perpetrated on BIPOC people have reached 26 million protesters in the US alone--a protest record-breaker. Protests in support of #BLACKLIVESMATTER have popped up all over the globe, despite the threat of COVID-19. To add to the chaos our President continues to be divisive in speech and actions, adding fuel to the fires of discontent. Needless to say, these events have saddened me and pushed me to a point of denial; suppressing feelings of fear, depression, and helplessness, and an inability to create.

An artist friend, Adjoa Burrowes, contacted me about participating in a collaborative art project, PROJECT 2020 with 8 other Black women artists creating artists' books about the unfolding events of 2020 thus far through our personal lens as Black women artists. For the first time in 6 months, I feel inspired to make art. Using an old book purchased in Edinburgh, Scotland while on a Fulbright last year as a base, my book, RETABLOS of RESISTANCE is inspired by Mexican retablos [gilded and carved folding screens typically found in churches/homes most are small, book-sized altars] and ex-votos [small paintings on tin that: 1) depict a tragedy or someone with a grave illness/injury; 2) a saint or martyr that intervened to ‘save the day’; and 3) an inscription describing the tragic event and giving thanks for the divine intervention].

In thinking about the current times and similar events from the past—a continuous cycle of injustice, hardship, disease, and devastation—resistance has been the key to survival and thrival. I recall my grandmother telling us stories about the 1918 flu pandemic, she was 15 at the time, and her sister, aged 13 almost died. An uncle did die caring for other family members, as did a cousin, an artist in the army during WWI---that was over 100 years ago. She also talked about the difficulty of being a career woman in the early part of the 20th century and how crucial women achieving the vote in 1920 (100 years ago-- she was 17 at the time), was to her. She never missed an opportunity to vote. She also took part in civil rights era marches.

For this book, I've created 8 two-page signatures (8 small pages each) for the 8 artists in the collective to select from and respond to my theme. I’m hoping for visual/written stories/poems of strength in challenging times---not even necessarily from 2020, historical moments, memories that depict Black womxn and all of our intersections as intelligent, beautiful, creative, and capable of inspiring social, political, and environmental change. Below are pictures of the signature I created for the book. It will be sent to the first artist on the list along with the 8 signatures for her to choose from. Each artist has one month to complete a page/signature for each participating artist. The project should be complete by May 2021. I plan to document the process in this blog.

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