Change is hard, because it requires two things: A break from the past and something unknown ahead.
Focusing too much on the past can be a mistake for one simple reason…it robs us of time to create the future we want. This statue, Rumors of War is a great example of what can happen when a person continues to build the future.
Breaking from the past
For many people, especially those with prior justice involvement, the past is a constant obstacle. Whether it’s a job interview or a conversation with family, it can feel like the past is never going to let you succeed. It’s true that the past is always going to be there. But please don’t let it block you from imagining the life you want and the multiple paths to getting there.
Keep building the life you want and if necessary, go over, under, or around those barriers. Work with allies on building your life. Then get together with even more allies to forge that societal level change that will move the barriers for everyone.
Rumors of War: Using art and imagination for positive social change
At the societal level, an example of this is the debate over Civil War statues. They are literally hard to move and they cast a long, cold shadow. Time, money, political capital, and even blood are spent in fighting over them.
Changing how our society places and views Confederate statues is important. Taking statues down, it seems, still leaves a sense of disappointment and frustration; there are so many more statues. To make the kind of change that satisfies us, we need to use our imaginations to create the future the way we want to see it.
Creating the future, emerging from the past
One artist, Kehinde Wiley, has used his imagination to create his own statue of a man on a horse. But this man is an African American man wearing contemporary urban street clothes and hair. This statue is in Times Square. This statue will move in December 2019 to its permanent home in Richmond, Virginia, near Monument Avenue, a national landmark boulevard full of Confederate statues. It is called Rumors of War and it is magnificent.
With Rumors of War, Kehinde Wiley and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will forever change the context of Monument Avenue, showing that African Americans are a strong part of our past, present, and future. May this be only the beginning of a boom in public art that affirms, with clarity, the dignity of all people.
Apply Kehinde Wiley’s work to your own life
Imagine the life that you want for yourself. Focus on a path to getting there. The past will always be there, but focusing on it too much will rob you of your time and energy. You need that time and energy to build your life.
There are people, like me, who want to walk with you on your path to the life that you want. They are in your community. Seek them out. It won’t be easy, but there is a path and there are people along the way who respect the future that you are creating.
If you don’t know Kehinde Wiley’s work, I beg you to look him up now.
As a starting point, I recommend learning about the genesis of his work, through seeing and understanding his Mugshot Study. In my work for SAY IT Solutions on personal self-determination and self-advocacy, this has inspired me and given me something to offer the many fine people I’ve met who are making their way, with courage, through life after justice system involvement. Then watch the PBS documentary Economy of Grace, which demonstrates his method as he created his New Republic work.
To read about Rumors of War on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts website: https://www.vmfa.museum/pressroom/artist-kehinde-wiley-unveils-rumors-war-sculpture-times-square-new-york-permanently-installed-virginia-museum-fine-arts/
To read about Rumors of War in the Richmond Times Dispatch: https://www.richmond.com/entertainment/art/kehinde-wiley-sculpture-unveiled-in-times-square-will-be-permanently/article_3c422b3f-a89d-5f9d-9a3a-313eabd692fc.html
To learn about Mugshot Study: https://www.npr.org/2015/05/22/408558234/the-exquisite-dissonance-of-kehinde-wiley
To watch Economy of Grace: https://www.amazon.com/Kehinde-Wiley-Economy-Jeff-Dupre/dp/B00N0MRFVW