Be Very Careful

IMG_7896 (1)Just over a year ago, I surprised myself by creating some art that I did not understand. Although I’ve always been a maker and a crafter, the collages I created – three little compositions using words snipped from church bulletins pasted strategically over the mouth, the ears, the eyes of media shots of Donald Trump – felt important to me, but puzzled me as well. Why had I created them? I wasn’t sure, and I wrote about that confusion on a blog post here.

Earlier this month, I looked at those pieces again just before coming across a call for entries for a local art gallery preparing a show of works on paper. It seemed serendipitous, and I hurried to frame the pieces as a triptych and submit them to the gallery. Almost as an afterthought, I also entered one of the meditative mandalas that I craft from church bulletins, designs drawn around a centering word of truth and power and framed with paper pulp and metal leaf collage.

I was first delighted, and then rather surprised, when I received notice that both my pieces had been accepted to the show, really thinking only about the triptych. I went to the opening with excitement, curiosity, and just a bit of anxiety – how would my trio of Trump collages be received? How would it present in the context of a group invitational collection? Would the polarizing image of Trump stand out, or would it be moderate, even timid or naive, compared to other works?

To make a long story short, I still don’t know. I don’t know because the piece was not on display. The curator’s assistant assured me it had absolutely nothing to do with content, only with size and space constraints and “how colors look together.” As she was handing the piece back to me, she and her colleague were earnestly telling me about a previous show that was full of “homoerotic” images as proof of their own open-mindedness, but said nothing about my piece specifically. I did see find my mandala piece on display, grouped with an abstract composition of textures and shapes, and on closer inspection, I saw that the show as a whole, while full of skill and beauty, had little to no content of controversy.

What I do know is that the piece felt more, not less, important to me because of its exclusion from that show. With a bit of sly rebelliousness, I posed for a photo in front of the show poster with my name appearing prominently near my shoulder, and my artwork in my hands. That action caught the attention of one of the gallery’s hosts, who stepped closer, probably wondering why framed art was in someone’s hands instead of on the wall. Even before I finished explaining that I’d just picked it up because “y’all decided not to include it in the show,” she was shaking her head and saying, “We have to be careful, we have to be very careful.” I loved her for her honesty.

I love the art I created, too, for its mystery and its power. As a trio of images, I titled it Triune Koan, and I’ll be submitting it to another show I learned about that sounds like a better match for difficult, disconcerting, disrupting expressions. As for my other piece – the one hanging sweetly, comfortably, pleasingly among 99 other works on paper – perhaps we need to be “very careful” with that piece too. Why? Because its title, and the word at its center, is Shalom.