Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Black and White

November 26, 2011

Black and White

I am an artist – a child of the universe, rich in laughter, love and life, who dares to unwrap the universe’s gifts in my own truth. I create “Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini” in which the colors black and white feature prominently. I outline the solid blocks of vibrant color that make up my pictures with black lines, and partner black and white in the borders.

As much as red – bright, blood, scarlet, primary red – is my absolute favorite color, I do not consider my creations complete without an abundance of black and white. To me black and white are the yin and yang of my creations, balancing out my compositions. Sort of day and night, dark and light, without either of which, none of my illustrations can be whole.

I love the way the contrast of the colors together, side-by-side, create harmony and balance, equilibrium in my drawings, informing me of their completion. Individually, their active energy sparkles, sharpens, defines and renders tangible my imagination. For me, the colors black and white are necessary, both stimulating and calming components of my two and three-dimensional creative world.

In contemporary Western society however, these two colors can facilitate chaos, consternation and frequently, cruelty. Black and white typically symbolize opposites; the dichotomy of good and evil, love and hate, angels and demons. They are loaded with cultural, spiritual, societal and linguistic connotation. To ascertain why this might be, when for me, black and white means artistic bliss, let’s take a look at the “stories” of black and white, beginning with the color aspect?

If you take a color wheel, you will find red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, and hues in between. No matter how hard you twist, turn, or spin the wheel though, you will not find the colors black or white.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, color is defined as, “The visible aspect of things caused by the differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted by them. A dye, pigment or paint that imparts a hue and skin tone.” So far so good, I am, as I mentioned earlier, partial to black and white paint in my artwork.

Delving further into definitions, black is defined as, “The achromatic color of maximum darkness; the color of objects that absorb nearly all light of all visible wavelengths.” White is defined as, “The achromatic color of maximum lightness; the color of objects that reflect nearly all light of all visible wavelengths.” Ah hah! Black and white are colors, of a kind. They are achromatic colors – colors without hue yet incorporate all colors on the color wheel.

Fine, fabulous so far. Let us now peek at some black and white synonyms. For black we have, soiled, (as from soot,) dirty, evil, wicked, depressing, gloomy, angry, sullen, morbid, dark. And white ones include, but are certainly not limited to, light-colored, pale, blank, unsullied, pure, snowy, incandescent, clean. Oh my! The scales are definitely tipping in favor of one color over the other, instigating division, as we dive into descriptions. I mean, if it’s a choice between “evil” and “gloomy” or “incandescent” and “pure,” is there really any competition?

Still, it’s only language. With the aforementioned lists in mind, let’s compare some traditional, religious and/or societal interpretations and meanings.

  • The medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars viewed black as a color of perfection.
  • In the Ifá tradition the orisha Obatala is represented with white – calmness, morality, old age, and purity.
  • In the Japanese culture, Black is associated with honor, not death. Kuro (black) is a symbol of nobility, age, and experience. The black belt is a mark of achievement and seniority in many martial arts.
  • In Japanese culture, White is associated with death. Shiro (white), symbolizes serfdom, youth, and naiveté. In Shotokan karate, a white belt is a rank-less belt which comes before all other belts.
  • Black is a symbol of mourning and bereavement in Western societies.
  • In Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese and Indian tradition, white is the color of mourning and death.
  • In the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, black is associated with rain clouds, a symbol of life and prosperity.
  • To whitewash, means to obscure the truth by issuing a blanket of lies. Also it is the action of burying or shoving someone’s face into the snow, as a form of bullying, or harassment.

From those few examples one can see that mixed in with the purity, calmness, perfection and mourning of the black and white color stories, there is much contradiction and confusion. It’s all in the interpretation, and consulting again the color wheel, I am reminded that black and white are everywhere and nowhere.

So, I am sticking with mine own interpretation – balance, harmony, artistic bliss and equilibrium. It is, quite simply, black and white.

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Communal storytelling fosters a sense of human connection

April 16, 2010

Reminiscing one day with my sister, she reminded me of how I used to keep her awake — snotty with laughter, at bedtime — regaling her with stories about naughty Nabeel, a little boy who had a penchant for riding “bare-back” upon the cat’s ear. She had me chortling, and snorting, as I remembered those times, now well over three decades ago. I was instantly transported to a time in my life of belonging, when I truly felt loved.

Humans since the beginning of time have beguiled each other with stories, personal and communal, fables and sagas. Some of these tales have been, in our sophisticated civilization, pooh-poohed as mere myths, fabrications of the mind and imagination. Yet these stories, like the figments of my own fantasticality, have a tendency to stay with us — to root us, and remind us, of where and what we have come from. And that is the beauty of a story, no matter how odd, fanciful, incredulous it may be, it is still a story, someone’s or, many people’s story. It still has power and meaning and place. Even history, that amalgam of facts and many a fanciful folk tale, at its core, is simply collections of “his” “story” and, of course, “her” “story,” “our story.”

It has been said that what once was old becomes new again, and again. Will Fuller, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc, Schools Committee Chair has dreamed up a way to bring back the way of our ancestors, for one night, (to start), to the Multnomah Arts Center. On Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “Sharing Our Family Stories,” sponsored by The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Small Grant Program, will debut.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an evening of personal history and storytelling to celebrate the varied lives and experiences of all people in Southwest Portland. Inspired by Robert Gray Middle School’s Project R.E.A.C.H. and Jackson Middle School’s “Peopling The Nation” Family History Project, where eighth-grade students conduct in-depth research into the background (ethnicity, religion, immigration routes and life highlights) of one family relative, or ancestor, and relate their individual stories, orally and visually, to members of their school community. The original intention of these family history projects was, in my opinion, to afford the children opportunities to learn about and from each other, to dispel or at least begin to diminish the power of the myths and stereotypes of “the other.” A way, I like to think, to help them “know,” particularly in this era of multiculturalism, that we are all, no matter color or culture, inherently human, with rich, different, yet equally important stories.

The aim of “Sharing Our Family Stories” is to foster human connection, healing and community in Southwest Portland. Robert Gray and Jackson Middle School eighth-grade students will facilitate the cross-cultural, cross-generational roundtable dialogues with community members. The students will first recount their personal chronicles. All who listen will be invited to share their own tales.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an invitation to all to break bread together (light snacks will be provided), to meet, human to human, heart to heart, at the table of unity and take turns at being storyteller. So each person may, like the ancient storytellers, griots, and fabulists of lore — whose role it was to educate, nurture, entertain, and ultimately unite their people in love, play their small but mighty part in uniting, in humanity and love — our neighborhoods, our community. The ancients knew that the need to be heard is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved.

Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? Your epos or memoir might star, instead of a mischievous munchkin wildly riding the cat’s ear, an unctuous uncle who sailed in on the big ship Newgate; a chief whose ancestors came with the territory, or a mother Goddess who flew Boeing over the sea. It is your story to tell. Please do.

For additional information and to reserve your place at the community story table e-mail schools@swni.org, or telephone 503-764-5501.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 Edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.