Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Jay and I were given the opportunity to pursue an art project with the motel families on Aurora Ave and furthermore the space to exhibit whatever we created.

Thus the grueling conversations that ensued between Jay and I in trying to figure out how to do an art project with this demographic of people.

I got heated. Impatient. Biting. Internally flooded by how on earth or heaven or even hell for that matter do we create a project that does not: EXPLOIT, Abuse, Use, Disable due to our power and privilege–even it was for them.

How many things do we do for people, but underneath, if we are honest and not threatened little humans, is it actually for ourselves? 

See, in my thought processes, to venture into an unknown place in which I have very constrained and limited experiences in a particular way of living–whether it’s a socioeconomic, familial, cultural, racial disparity–then I feel this incredible need to be cautious. My biases, stereotypes, and distribution of value can be tools to humiliate, exclude, and justifications for subtly manipulating change.

My way, please. I have authority since I know what I know…(ensuing nausea).

(Clearing of throat) As I have slowly grappled with my culturally socialized self, I find many things that I can hold loosely, rather than rigidly owning and then placing people into my worldly, yet inconspicuously religious shackles.

ERGO! this AWAKE Church project made me mad and Jay had to be my backboard for enabling an alternate route to emerge in defining a means to create and represent Aurora Ave well. 

The documentary, Born Into Brothels, came to my mind as we sifted through the possibilities. To give others the means (for instance a camera) to artistically document their world seemed most true in creating genuine representational art. In addition, whenever we have  brought back photos of the families from times that we have all spent together as a community, they have responded with such enthusiasm because they don’t have any due to the lack of funds, domestic violence situations,  or the transient life that prevents a collection of photos.

For instance, how tragic is it that a mom of 2 gorgeous girls had to leave all of her albums that contained baby, toddler, and other photos behind when fleeing from her abusive husband? It’s maddening.

So we handed out disposal cameras and let loosed the possibilities. After a couple of weeks we collected them and it was a fun compilation of all kinds of content. We were able to pick out several pictures and enlarge them onto canvases. The set-up turned out satisfactorily and the families had a lot of enjoyment over the exhibit–insofar as coming to the cafe the day that the exhibit was finished to gather the photos, convincing the barista that they were suppose to pick them up.  Hilarious. 

One of the informational pieces that Jay included was about the Hebraic term, Nasa Panim, which means “to lift up one’s face“. This is associated in Scripture as the day of Judgment. The day of Judgment that has been painted as dark and dreadful and doomful, but (to my knowledge) actually means the day that God gives name,  identity, and a face to those who have had none. 

To lift up one’s face. Beautiful. And the hope we had for this project–to give a face, a name, a system of values to these people who are largely ignored and written off in Seattle as degraded individuals.

So the project went up in a cafe for a month and part of what we requested from others was cameras to donate to the families that have none. The regulars at the cafe were astounding in how they connected to the exhibit and consequently how they gave as a result. All the tips went to funding for the families, whether it be for a down payment on a home or for food or…one person gave a $60 tip, a notorious curmedgeon gave a digital camera, and others who tipped and donated various materials to help. 

To lift up one’s face. To lift up one’s face. To lift up one’s face.

I’m going to tattoo that on my tongue, the anatomical utensil that (single handedly) oh so desires to put down the other’s face with exclusion and morality, including my own.

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