by John Bloner, Jr.
The title of this week’s article, A Lament, and Visions of Hope, for Wronged Souls, comes from a New York Times headline from March 2020. The accompanying story was a review of an Off Off Broadway musical; however, from a distance of 15 months, the headline feels prescient, not only because of the pandemic, but for many other events that continue to affect humankind on a global and personal level.
Kenosha artist Arian Rana found this phrase by happenstance or perhaps by kismet. She and I were engaged in a collaborative collage art-making challenge when she happened upon it while using the newspaper to protect her table from any stray marks or spills. She tore it out and glued it down on our paper. It holds meaning for her private story, and its words may echo with you, too.
I’m still decoding the story contained in the final piece, examining the images of maps, tickets, butterflies, the number 93, and a photo of woman with a flower in her hair. I’d begun this piece, using instructions by artist/author Nick Bantock for a collaborative collage. Bantock encourages participants to work quickly, not thinking about what they’re doing. I covered half a sheet of watercolor paper with a wash of acrylic paint and used a colored pencil to scribble lines over the other half. I added chalk pastel, a photo from a copy of National Geographic, as well as a small section of a road atlas.
I handed over the sheet to Arian without commentary. Several weeks later, she returned with the final piece. For this article, I will go through many of the components found in the collage and share our thoughts on them, while inviting your own contemplations.
I’ve put together a reference graphic to aid in finding the described items.
- HIGH HOPES and DANGER
For our collaborative collage, I’d provided a backdrop of shapes and several images for Arian to build upon, cover up, or remove, as her impulses decided. I’d cut the words, High Hopes, out of a magazine, not thinking of how they may be interpreted by Arian. A song was playing in my head and that was enough for me. I often listen to Frank Sinatra while in my art studio, and while I cherish the melancholy of “In The Wee Small Hours” and “Only The Lonely,” I also love the bubbly charm of this tune.
The “High Hopes” phrase captured Arian’s attention when she set to work on the collage, but in a different way than my own.
“I sometimes react with my hands before my conscious has caught up with the art,” she told me. “This is how I started to respond to the collage. I’d seen ‘High Hopes’ and tore out a response – a danger warning – before I’d taken any time to really digest the piece and think about what I (or we) might want to say. It evolved from there.”
2. WOMAN WITH A FLOWER IN HER HAIR
I found a photo of this woman in a copy of National Geographic magazine and added it to the collage. Her pose and demeanor intrigue me. She’s looking away from the camera, either from shyness or custom or perhaps the photographer caught her unaware.
Her gaze is directed toward several 19th century female figures and the juxtaposition of these images adds a layer of contemplation to this piece. What would a woman of her heritage and class think of another society’s (and generation’s) standard of feminine beauty? How would that society’s women react to her?
Arian saw this person as someone who has realized too late that she’s allowed others to make decisions for her. All ambitions for adventure and flight have been scuttled. If you look just to the left of her eye level, you’ll find the words, “Fear to do.”
3. BUTTERFLIES, TICKETS, MAPS, AND SYMBOLS OF TIME
The butterflies, the tickets, the maps, and the symbols of the passage of time are all about our dreams and plans for adventure,” Arian said. “I imagined stifled hopes and people with good intentions slowly killing her dreams. She realized too late that all of her decisions should have been her own.
I’ve examined this piece many times since Arian completed it, tracking the path of the butterflies from the single winged creature in the bottom left of the page to the cluster of insects near the middle and on to the lone thing taking flight from view in the upper right. The butterfly in world cultures represents transformation, rebirth, and resurrection. It may also symbolize joy and happiness.
Could it be a vision of hope?
4. TIME PASSAGES
What do you make of the envelope, the hourglass, and the postage stamp in this piece? Are they symbols of a faded correspondence, ended by death or loss of love?
Arian imagines that the woman with the flower in her hair had sent missives to a lover in a foreign land, someone who’d got away, just as she had dreamed of escape, but never took the chance because she feared the unknown.
5. An Identity Is Missing
As she was cleaning up from this art project, Arian read several of the headlines from a copy of the New York Times which was protecting her work surface. The phrase, An Identity Is Missing, hit her like a punch to the gut. “For me, as for so many people who have molded our lives and sense of self around others, it’s easy to suddenly feel a gaping hole when we’re left alone or suddenly grieving a loss,” she commented. “We so desperately want to be whole that we feel the lack of it keenly.”
Millions of identities are missing from the past year, not only from Covid-19 deaths, but the loss of people to violence, disease, and suicide. In December 2020, over 600 children were still missing after they were separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border. In British Columbia, the remains of 215 indigenous children were found in unmarked graves on a former school site.
Take a look at the faces that float in the collage. Who are these individuals? They were once someone’s children. They were once loved. What are their names? What are their stories?
The Number 93.
As I was looking one more time at the collage, I spotted the number 93 there. I’m not sure if I added it or if Arian brought it to the page. In either circumstance, it eluded examination until this article was ready to publish.
93 is an angel number, emitting positive energy and serving as a sign that those who encounter it in their daily business are on the cusp of reaching a higher potential.
I hope those reading this article and viewing the collage which Arian Rana and I have created find the number 93 arriving in their lives.
We could all use a vision of hope now.
Thanks for reading. I only have a few weeks left in my tenure as Racine Writer-In-Residence. In the month of June, I’ll share news from Spectrum School of the Arts and Gallery in the DeKoven Center of Racine, where my Krazines art and creative writing group will present an exhibit this summer. I’ll offer some images of a new work-in-progress at my studio, along with other stories.
If you are a Kenosha or Racine resident, age 18 or older, and would like to apply for the position of Writer-In-Residence, click HERE for information and for an application form. Deadline for applications is June 15, 2021.