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!