“Breaking through”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021, is a two-sided black-and-white minimalistic self-portrait about breaking through the barrier of White Supremacy. The white barrier seems impenetrable and all-consuming, and the only ticket is convincing Supremacists that non-Whites are enough like them to warrant acceptance. But acceptance is neither a given, nor guaranteed to last. Like with immigrants in a new country, being accepted as “one of us” is a constant battle — often stretching over several generations. Non-Whites will never be Caucasian, no matter how much we try to pass as white. Thus, Non-Whites must learn “grayness”, as bleaching our skin and talking like a native does not remove one’s Blackness, Latino-ish, or Asian-ish. Therefore the self-portrait is in gray tones. But when breaking through we must carry our Blackness with us, and thus we must also break through the stereotypes and xenophobia used against us.
”COVID-19 — fini les bises à la pelle !”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm., 2020, is a self-portrait of myself hesitating to kiss my own death skull, and is surrounded by a ring of blue roses.
The blue roses symbolize the unattainable; here, an unfulfilled love-moment that is even too complicated to be described in words because our natural habit of performing the delicious bises à la pelle is abruptly stopped by the cold mental forewarning that “some doors should never be opened”. There is nothing to say, save perhaps “Oh, I almost forgot.”
This is, indeed, a challenging conceptual and technical study and essay. The image of a person kissing a death skull is an age-old meme (if not a cliché). Here the twist is to play on the concept of The Picture of Dorian Gray, whereby the death skull is the mirrored image of my true Self — i.e. that part of me that always remains constant, regardless of the « accoutrements » of fashion, disposition, or aging. In the Age of COVID-19 a simple kiss on the cheek can become the shovel that digs our own grave… Indeed we must all face our own Death, with eyes open or shut. And yet Death finds meaning only against the background of Life, though measured in mere years or breaths. Just as Light has no significance without shadow or Darkness, we cannot live Life fully being afraid of Death. On ne peut pas vivre en ayant peur de mourir …
In the immortal words of John Donne:
Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud,
though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful,
for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?