if pain

I have been working on this for a while now. I started a painting on a small wooden braced panel but I didn’t feel very inspired to continue, so the painting, with printed leaves in fall tones, had been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a few years now. Last fall, one of my teachers brought in the idea of making shadow boxes, and I had been wanting to try making one. When I looked around the house for boards and things to make shadow boxes with, I saw this half-done painting and I thought, the back of it would make a great shadow box.

But still I didn’t start working on it, because I had no vision for what could inhabit the shadow box. And then on the first Sunday of the year, I saw this quote in the sermon note:

If pain causes us to go inward, there is no communication with the world outside; if it causes us to go outward in retaliation, then we lose the message we bear… If pain causes us to go forward, then we are not bearing the pain, we are using the pain.
- Dr. Samuel Kamaleson, 1976

Somehow that led me to the image of the Walled City. Like I had mentioned before, I have never set foot in the actual Walled City. All I have of it are stories, from videos and posters and museum exhibits and a friend who’ve spent time there, and a tour of the meticulously manicured park that holds the same space as the Walled City but looks nothing like its former desolate self.

I suppose it’s easy to romanticize what life was like in the Walled City. The poverty, the injustice, the sufferings of the soul, the resilience of the people. And frankly that’s what I imagine, but I also know that the reality of the place was anything but romantic. And I have no idea, and I will never have any idea, about what it was really like to live there because I have never been there.

But something about that place resonated with me. Perhaps not the reality of that place but what it represents. And I can’t really explain what it represents to me. I suppose that’s why I made this, because I don’t know how to express it otherwise.

I used the classified section of a Chinese newspaper, with small boxes of text and many mentions of the word “home”. And ink, which reacted with the adhesive I used to paste the newspaper and crackled in frost-like patterns. And pieces of roots, which were salvaged from a yucca plant that didn’t survive the winter. On what was the front of the panel I wrote part of the quote, and the leaf prints were still visible through the black paint. I think as a whole it has said what needed to be said.

I have been working on this for a while now. The making of the image is complete, but the work of learning, and of understanding, isn’t.

Hope you are well. Enjoy the weekend!