2020 A Year of Research and Reflection: May
Image Description ( continue reading the rest of the blog post below at***)
The image is a collage of four square instagram posts.
The post in the top left corner has a bright pink background. There is an image in the center of the pink square of a brown skinned Black person in Black and silver glasses wearing who is visible from the shoulders up. The light is dramatic and makes it seem as if the person is being held in a sea of blackness. This person is wearing a black velvet mock neck. There is a head adornment on their head. It has two sweeping, ribbed, translucent black sails that seem to be like some delicate sea creature floating and not fully visible. The person’s face is cradled between these sails, and a partially screened by one of them. Able the photo the words “ For/Four” in large black text sit atop the words “ Saturday, June 6, 2020, 1 P.M. ET” in white text. Below the image the name “OMOLARA Williams McCallister” reads in all capital letters in white text. The final line of text is a link to RSVP for the Program.
The post in the top right corner is dominated by a crowned figure. Their crown is made of a symphony of concentric circles. There are three sets of three circles visible, there seem to be more out of sight in the center of the crown or behind the head. Each set of circle is made from a translucent white open weave sinamay fabric and rimmed in raffia. The circles stand tall, but also relax into gravity. Below the crown a band raffia braided into an intricate open weave holds the crown on the head and releases a cascade of loose raffia strands and birth bark squares in varying shades of raffia brown, periwinkle brown, golden brown and a peachy almost pink brown. This cacasding veil covers the eyes of the crowned one, but still allows peeks of skin to peek through. The skin is a rich brown not unlike rich, freshly turned compost. The crowned figures head is framed by a cradle of soft brown wings, with gentle folds and creases. These wings are in fact the arms of someone who wears a soft white linen that sits inmmediately behind and above the crown one. The hands of the person seated behind are not really visible but it is clear that they are resting on the shoulders of the crowned one. In the Bottom left corner of the image there is a square of text that reads: “ Black Spatial relics Mirco Grant for Community Care and Collective Research Awardee / Omolara Williams McCallister/ Unveiling Possible Futures/ Photo Credit: Derek Blanks”
The post in the bottom left corner shows a video of a noose projected on the back wall of a space that is filled with hanging ropes. The floor of the space is covered in brown dirt. Words at the bottom of the image read “Where Do Monuments Go To Die? / Still of Video Installation/ 2 min 54 sec / 2020”
The post in the bottom right corner is of a red toned, brown skinned person holding up a diploma from Maryland Institute College of Art. The person is wearing a black knit halter top, a black beret and intricate chandelier like earrings that end in an orb that seems to have a galaxy floating, suspended within it. The person is smiling with teeth. Their eyes are rimmed in black eyeliner that make the white of their eyes pop, their teeth gleam against black stained lips. Pants play in the background in front of a wall covered in whimsical sculptures.
I can now write that May 2020 started a slow trickle of what has become a monsoon of opportunities. As I was living that month, I experienced it I remember spending the entire month terrified, exhausted, and traumatized. I remember May as a month that—in the words of Lucille Clifton—“tried to kill me and failed” ( Lucille Clifton, “won't you celebrate with me” from Book of Light. Copyright © 1993 by Lucille Clifton).
I remember May as the month that I moved to Boston because my Baltimore roommate did not believe in COVID. He continued to have groups of unmasked friends in the house, to go out with the same friends—forget hand washing.
I remember May as the month I made it out of grad school. The school—a capitalist business—did not take a people first approach to COVID or to our safety and well being. Their response was poorly coordinated and poorly supported. I only had one teacher who seemed to acknowledge that we were entering a global pandemic by making appropriates shifts in his expectations..
I remember May as the month that George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. When it happened I was—and I am—still mourning Ahmaud Arbery ( killed February 23, 2020) , Breonna Taylor ( killed March 13, 2020). Breonna was killed, in her HOME!, 4 days before my 30th birthday. May was also the month that two people who were fatally shot just in front of the house where I was living alone. After it happened the police came by every night for a week, police knocking on the doors at all hours of the night. The light from their sirens played across the ceiling as I tried to sleep but couldn’t because my body could not accept that we were safe. Were we? I remember May as a month that tried to kill me, but failed.
Yet, when I look back at May 2020 through images and emails and journal entries I see another story that I could tell. May was a month of emergence.
In May I received a micrograms from Black Spatial Relics, a small deeply impactful organization that is harnessing the power of art to fuel Black Liberation. I used that grant to send out individual emotional safety kits to over 75 Black and brown organizers across the east coast.
In May I was invited to be on one of Niama Sandy’s For/FOUR panels that would happen in June and include artists Alicia Piller and Vanessa L German. That panel, the other panelists—Black women artists and art workers who are a little farther down the road than me—gave me permission. Permission to be expansive. Permission to create new language. Permission to talk about all the aspects of my practice including the trash collection and the spiritual guidance and the boundaries. Permission to place myself in lineages of folks who have been doing this work and have given me their blessing yo carry it on. I review my notes and reflections from that panel OFTEN. And German’s term the “simultaneity of time” is now a mainstay in my vocabulary. As I understand it the simultaneity of time describes how past is present is future all always all at the same time. Christina Sharpe uses the phrase “the past that is not yet past,” in a similar way.
In May I got invited (and partially funded!) to create a new work in a show at the institution formerly known as Greater Reston Arts Center and now know as Tephra Institute for Contemporary Art. Making this work stretched my practice to include moving images. It also allowed me to go all in and fully realize an installation that I have been carrying inside me for almost a decade. Being able to make that work, install it and document it has already opened so many doors for me. This moment was particularly sweet for me because I did not get to have a thesis show because of COVID. Thesis shows are often the fist time that emerging artists get access to this kind of space.I am/was both thankful to have finally been given the opportunity and also determined to make sure that more people like me get access to apace to realize their work early on in their career. Imagine what I might be doing now if I had had the resources to do this ten years ago when I conceived of it! Let’s close that gap yall. The work that I made for this show is a call to dismantle the lynch mob descendant prison industrial complex. It is a conjuring of ways that we can work through generational trauma.
In May I began leveling up my investment in building a library of art books by and about Black and Black African artists. Though my body could not travel I was determined to make sure that my mind had access to images of Black brilliance, Black beauty, Black joy, Black expressive culture. This counterpoint provided by these books keeps me rooted in the the infinite possible future that we can create. If we are capable of such beauty, such imaginative force, such world building in this moment where the world is working to kill us and keep us down in every way imaginable, then what we will be capable of when we are not being hunted each and every day. When we have all of the things that we need to live with ease and thrive? I live to see this question answered. I work to create the conditions where this question can be answered. This is what drives me forward and pulls me through.
May was many things.