Tag Archives: mixed media

Voices: Stories and Portraits of Immigrants

The truth is I needed this project more than it needed me. I needed to find my voice in art and to use my reporting and artistic skills to promote a better society. When Suzannah, my partner in the “Voices” show, asked me for ideas for a November show, I knew we should do art that focuses on immigrants and immigration issues.

Daily, I hear vitriol thrown against people who are more like “us” than not. Why? Because we, as people, are afraid of change. I wanted fight that fear and build empathy and mutual understanding. The only way I know how to do that is to let people speak for themselves and to paint portraits that delve into their individual personalities.

Therefore, my part of “Voices” focuses on the individual.

For example, I built a collage with Panama, Mexico and U.S. maps as a background for Michael, a young man in Rogers who dreams of being a pilot. For Adita’s portrait, I used a stamp from India to showcase where she comes from. For Sabine, I used a photo printmaking process from the 1800s and painted her portrait over those images. Sabine is a photographer who has received much recognition for her art.

The power of a portrait is that we see ourselves reflected in the expression and soul of the sitter. We see pieces of ourselves, our humanity and our sameness in portraits. We also gain empathy for and with each other by listening to each other’s stories.

In “Voices,” I concentrate on the faces and voices of people who moved from their home countries to live in Arkansas. I recorded each person telling what he or she would want people to know. The words are their own, unedited, uncut and uncoerced. Voices, like fingerprints, like each story, like each person, are unique.

I used mixed media techniques — everything from soft pastel to bichromate photography — to create portraits that heighten the sense of diversity and individuality among people generically labeled “immigrants.”

Issues surrounding immigration are not restricted to one race or ethnicity. It is important to note the diversity within these issues. I hope, by concentrating on individuals, my work brings about a greater understanding that will translate to changes of heart, mind and law.

All of these portraits are mixed media. I chose to use spray paint on most paintings to achieve a more urban street art feel. I’m interested in creating evocative and thoughtful art that transcends traditional media parameters. Street art has similar aspirations.

This project is unfinished. I hope to continue to collect stories and portraits and exhibit this show elsewhere.

Updates: A day after the show opened Nov. 1, Martha Lopez passed her test and became a U.S. Citizen. Raj, who helped develop Northwest Arkansas comedy entertainment, has since moved out of Arkansas.

Listen to some of the recordings below:

Adita Karkera, Inda

Joelle Storet, Brussels

Raj Suresh, India

Josline Ennen, Uganda

Martha Lopez, Mexico

Michael De Hoyos, Mexico & Panama

Sabine Schmidt, Germany

Why ‘Women in Jail?’

I look through jail logs and see their faces: women arrested, usually young and linked to drugs, staring blankly into a camera for their mugshots. I do this as part of my job as a reporter.

Women are the fastest growing inmate populations nationwide.

I have watched their numbers have swell from a handful to about 27 percent of the population at the Washington County Detention Center.  The trend, in line with the national problem, bothers me. I come from a family where drugs and alcohol and domestic abuse played a role in that cycle.

And, even now, help seems scarce. Transitional housing is hard to get, driver’s licenses are hard to get, fees are hard to pay. The cycle continues.

My mother used to bring home female strangers who begged her for jobs in her flower shop. As a child, I noted the women were often pale, sick and scared. They vomited in our toilet. They sweated on our couch. They never ate.

Once a man drove into our yard and yelled for a woman staying with us come out. He was angry. She was his girlfriend. She was not in her place. Our dogs attacked his red truck. One dove into his driver’s side window and bowed the glass. The dog scared him away, but his girlfriend went back to him a few days later.

I’m saying all of this because I’ve been thinking about how best to explain why I wanted to help women convicted of felonies. Why do a show dedicated to “Women in Jail?” Why pick Returning Home to try to raise money and awareness? Why did I want to focus on people who are often overlooked, even shunned?

My cousins went through a string of arrests, convictions, abuse and addictions. Their convictions include theft, hot checks, possession, domestic abuse and, one even has a misdemeanor charge of giving her son cigarettes.

My two first cousins were pregnant by 15. Teeth eroded, psych wards, suicide attempts — surely you know the drill.

Until recently, I thought everyone knew someone who had been trapped in the judicial system and cycle of addictions. Everyone knows someone arrested. After all, we are talking about a lot of people.

Arkansas ranked among the top 10 for incarcerated women in 2014. From the same report: “Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. Women now comprise a larger proportion of the prison population than ever before; the female prison population stands nearly eight times higher than its population count in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.1”

Often, when women get out of jail, there is nowhere to go but back to where they were, they feel.

More than half men who get out of jail or prison end up back there. More than a third of the women end up back, too. That destroys families, hurts children and hinders our communities.

If that’s not enough, I can tell you incarcerating people costs us millions locally. In fact, a justice of the peace called the jail costs a “black hole” sucking money from the general fund earlier this week.

The Washington County Quorum Court is struggling with costs — including a climbing incarceration rate at the county jail. At this point about two-thirds of those at the jail are pre-adjudicated, meaning they have not yet been convicted.


How can we help? Maybe let’s start by caring and learning about the issues.


For information about the fundraiser or to submit art, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/349752785448659/

Art with meaning

Relationship Goals
Ink and marker on “spirit” paper, 2016

Sometimes artists get so hung up on technique that we forget to tell a story, express a moment or reveal something intimate — all things great art should be.

To me, this “revelation,” as it were, is the most important and most difficult aspect of art: How to infuse are with meaning.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the Nasty Women Exhibition in Northwest Arkansas. The event is apolitical, but there were so many intimate images of how women related to the term “nasty” or how they feel as women generally. It was a beautiful event. My part — a show at Local Color in Fayetteville — ended Sunday, but the events will be going on all of this month.

On Saturday, women gathered to talk at a forum. The panel spoke about art’s ability to challenge viewers and pointed out how so many women feel unheard.

My piece, “Relationship Goals,” went up Thursday with an artist reception. Only one person “got it” immediately. I put it on here and hope you “get it” too.

This image is something that actually happened and probably happens to every couple. (Yes, the woman’s expression is tired-angry.) I used regular colored pens and markers to achieve the effect. The paper, though, is a collage of “joss” paper, also known as ghost or spirit paper. I picked up a bundle at Tang’s Asian Market not too long ago.

What interested me about the paper (aside from its vibrant metallic essence and repeating patterns) is that it is used traditionally as a way to pay off ancestor debts, among other family-related things. It’s burned as an offering. That link to family, even when we don’t want the link, seems inescapable in life and even death. How much of what we do is just a repeat of what others did before us?

For some who attended the show, this made an impact.

“The worse thing I ever did was try to be someone else,” a patron said Thursday.

“Yes, but someone told you not to be that person, didn’t they?” I said.

“They did more than tell me.”