“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
~ Alex Haley
Several years ago, during a very difficult time in my life, I attended a “Soul Card” workshop. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the experience. I understood the basic parameters of what the workshop offered, namely it was a form of art therapy very similar to stream of conscience writing except instead of using words on paper one uses magazine images to build a collage on a small piece of poster board. The process is timed to force participants to act quickly so that there’s no over-thinking which images to glue down and when the ninety-minute time period has expired, participants gather in a circle to share their soul card and the story that materialized from it. Inevitably, a very personal story surfaces. Deep and intimate insights emerge from both the individual as well as from the group’s feedback as to what they see in the collage. It’s not uncommon for tears to be shed. Grief, after all, is the first stage towards healing. Different images take on symbolic meaning and when the soul card is placed somewhere in the home where it will be viewed on a daily basis, the story unfolds even more and real healing from past trauma can take place.
Since that first workshop, I have made dozens and dozens of soul cards and even hosted many workshops myself. The healing power this process offers is very real. Similarly, I’ve approach my art making process in the same way. Each painting reflects a personal history. The images chosen are intuitively selected with little to no thought. During the painting process or sometime thereafter is when the story begins reveals itself.
In this month’s painting, “Reconciling Bloodlines,” I’ve had to confront some ancestral healing from both my maternal and paternal bloodlines. On my mother’s side, there’s a history of maternal abuse. I don’t know how far back it goes but I do know that my great grandmother could be downright cruel to my grandmother. She use to threaten to lock her in a closet alone with the rats. I don’t blame my grandmother for her faults in raising her own children. She had a traumatic past with the abuse she endured as well as surviving the blitz in England during WWII. But pain and trauma does get passed down through the generations. I’m proud of my own mother for her conscience efforts to recognize the wounds that have been passed down through family lineage and for her asking for forgiveness for the trauma inflicted on me as a child. She has grown in tremendous ways spiritually and has learned to give love freely and always finds the silver lining in difficult situations. The mom I have today is a very beautiful woman and I am learning that forgiveness is the most healing tool I carry in my toolbox.
On my father’s side this history is less evident in my day-to-day life but much, much darker. When I was four or five years old, my Uncle Ron came to the house on Christmas morning with a giant tin of caramel popcorn and the entire VHS collection of the miniseries “Roots.” He told my brother and I that his gift to us was that we were going to learn about our history so we would know where it is that we came from. My Uncle Ron, now resting in peace, was a black American as is my father. I was probably a bit young for such a brutal video portraying the struggles of black slaves in America. There was lots of violence and the “N” word used repeatedly. I blocked much of it from my memory but do remember crying at some point while watching it. From a young age, I was indoctrinated into the struggles of black Americans. It seems so strange to me now that for decades I identified with having slave blood but never even thought about the possibility of also having slave-master blood. My father is not a dark-skinned black, he is on the fairer side. It wasn’t until some family genealogy research a couple of years ago, (mostly to discover where in Africa his ancestors came from), that the exposure of Anglo blood raised some questions. Of course my dad had to have some Anglo-American mixed in but for some reason, it wasn’t until this research into family history that I was confronted with some serious questions. Did I have have slave owner blood and if that is true, did I also have the blood of a rapist. The master who performed such heinous acts of violence on Kunta Kinte may not have been much different from my great-great grandfather.
Ancestral healing doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. If anything, this painting is a good start for me.