For the past year it's been a gift to be a part of an artist collective led by Lanecia Rouse Tinsley. We've been able to gather in her studio, read various works by and about artists, discuss, share struggles, and create together. As part of the experience she invited us to participate in a show this February, which featured 9 incredible paintings of Lanecia's and one submission by each artist in the collective. We were challenged to reflect on a contemporary reality that tugged at our hearts, seeing it through the lens of one of the liturgical seasons of the Christian calendar.
The season I received was Pentecost. I didn't know much about this liturgical season, and diving into it was a rich experience. For my piece I used decommissioned fire hose generously donated by members of the Houston Fire Department, an oil lamp, and flame. Amazingly, one of the fire hoses donated was marked with the year 1962. It was really special to work with a material that felt like a piece of history in that way.
The finished piece.
As I thought about the narrative of Pentecost, I realized: xenophobia is the Anti-Pentecost. The anti-Spirit. The heart of the Spirit they were given was sudden supernatural solidarity in a crowd of all different kinds of people who didn't even speak the same language, which led to communication of the message that led to the birth of the church (another expression of radical interdependence as this diverse group shared everything they owned and cared for each other in the face of persecution).
Once that hit my heart I knew I had to think about being people of faith in America within the greater context of xenophobic nationalism. And I wanted to think about the resilience of the Spirit in the face of that. I wanted to think about the amazing resilience and persistence of the Spirit toward love in the face of both dramatic opposition from the outside, and against logical impulses to the contrary on the inside.
The hose in this piece evokes the idea of quenching fire and stopping flames. It also carrie weight as an object historically used to blast at the humanity, dignity, and courage of protestors, whether Civil Rights protestors in the 60s, or Dakota Access Pipeline protestors just last year.
I created the flag out of this fire hose because in so many ways our nation has been built on that kind of Spirit quenching activity, and because I see that shedding loyalty and allegiance to the flag opens up space and opportunity to really see one another more clearly.
So this little light persists. And the flame not only resists being extinguished itself, but set face to face with the flag made of fire-resistant material, begins to slowly lick away and consume it.
I looked at many iconic protest photos when making the piece and every one is marked by the smallness or vulnerability of the courageous man or woman facing their oppressor, whether that’s a row of riot police or a row of tanks. Each image spoke to me of the courage and internal fire of Pentecost. I wanted to harness a little bit of that size juxtaposition by allowing the flag to have dominance in terms of space and size, while the fierce little light, despite inferior size and presence in the piece, is actually eroding the flag’s power with its flame.