In 2004 I went to Africa with a film crew to write the script for a documentary about the AIDS pandemic. However, the American program we were documenting had been trying to lure a paper maker over to teach HIV+ women to make greeting cards. The anti-retroviral drugs were free, but the women needed income to feed their families, send their kids to school, and get their hair braided.
Quite frankly, when a woman has AIDS or HIV her family abandons her and I was told that many disappear into the bush to die alone. With money of her own, however, everything changes. That’s a tale as old as time (everywhere except the Trobriand Islands as far as I know.)
Anyway - paper making - I knew that's why I had gone to Africa, so I stayed behind and taught paper making.
What's funny about that trip is, like every American woman, I was trying to lose 10 pounds. In the eyes of my students and new friends though, I was pathetic. They pitied me so much that one of them always held my hand wherever I went. In their eyes I was pale, skinny, and shockingly ugly. Every day they told me my husband was going to leave me if I didn't gain some weight. Children lined up to touch my hair, pronouncing that my blondness made me look and feel "like a goat." I was positively radiant with joy at this new perspective.
Seeing myself through a new lens forever liberated me from myself, and from so many societal constraints. It is in that liberation where one truly starts to value diversity.
Truth: When we let other people be themselves, we set ourselves free.
That’s sentiment is behind the new sculptures, The Rafikis. (“Rafiki” is Swahili for “friend”.)
They’re made of clay, encaustic beeswax, handmade paper, twine, and graphite.
You can pick one up from Miller Gallery in Charleston (they also ship). You can have just one of course, but aesthetically they look great in groups of odd numbers. Like a happy, weird little family.