Truly Powerful People (321)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

My studio is in an old INS building (immigration and naturalization service). It is the place where people were detained before being admitted into the country or sent back to their home country. Before it was converted to artist’s studios, there was a cellblock, dorms for men and women, dorms for children. On the second floor there are two open-air courtyards, places where the detainees were allowed some time in the sun. On the brick walls of the courtyard, written in black tar, are the names and home countries of the generations of people who were detained here. They were not allowed to have pens or pencils so on warm days when the sealing tar got sticky in the hot sun, the people would dip sticks (or their fingers) into the tar and write their names. In this liminal space, a place that is neither here or there, in the hours and days of detention and boredom and uncertainty, these people left a record of their passage. There are hundreds of names. I was here.

Sometimes I sit in the courtyard and read the names. Some days it is hopeful, as if each name represents a dream in process. Some days I find it depressing, as if each name represents a dream dashed. Some days I don’t see the names at all but a Jackson Pollack wall, a painting that caught the movement of the artists that left their mark. Some days it is like a cave painting, a sacred space like the belly of the whale, a place where people met their monster and were transformed by the trial. Some days I am compelled to add my name to the wall; I was here, too.

Once, I watched a brilliant art teacher work with beginning students (they were teachers) and he had them on oversized paper write their names as big as possible. He asked them to do it again and again, to play with their signature, to write full body signatures until the motion was a dance, layering new signatures on top of old until they realized that to write their signature was the same as drawing. He said to them, “To write your name is to draw yourself into existence. It is to say, ‘This is who I am.’”

Sometimes I think this is what we do everyday, whether we are scratching our names in tar on the wall of detention or dancing our names again and again on oversized lives, we are drawing ourselves into existence. Through our choices and actions we say, “This is who I am and I was here, too.”

One Response

  1. Love this image…and you writing. Thanks. Not totally related, but reminds me of the piece on automatons I saw on CBS Sunday Morning where an antique robot is writing and drawing.;contentBody

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