….Or do I need to?
In my studio there hangs a print of a couple back in the old country that are bowing at the harvest that lay at their feet. In prayer. It is called The Angelus. It’s lovely. It’s humble. And I like it.
When I was outfitting the retreat lodge, I came across two prints that looked to be from that same era of The Angelus. The Angelus, by the way, was painted by Jean-Francois Millet in 1859. I was drawn to them in the same way and thought they would be a great addition to our lodge. One print is of three women farming and the other is a gentleman winding up his day walking his tools back to the barn. I do not have the artist’s name who rendered the original work.
A few weeks back a good friend noticed the prints and brought to my attention that I had hung prints of slaves on my wall and that may not be in the best taste given the fact the lodge is used for many people coming and going. Someone may find this to be offensive. I was taken aback and argued as to whether or not these figures were in fact African-American. That is not what I noticed when I purchased them. I saw people farming. He further said that these people had to be slaves given the time portrayed in the picture and the activity they were engaged in. huh. My first response was, well…that is not my intention and of course, I cannot be in control of how others interpret the print. And that I see people as people and not as a color. And why would I try to make a statement about slavery on my wall? There is not a racist bone in my body and African Americans were very much a part of my childhood. My friend agreed, but others may not feel the same way. If the lodge is to be used for retreating, then it is vital that I do not make anyone uncomfortable in their retreating experience. Point taken.
My second response was a pity party. I felt attacked for a decision I had made and how dare someone question my decision. That is my go to even if it is not called for. Working on that. Diligently.
After I got over the attack which wasnt an attack at all(it was a sensitive concern about a sensitive subject brought on by a sensitive fellow), I talked to another good friend about it. She said..wait a minute….Did these people in the print live north of the Mason/Dixon line? Or south? (I love this woman.) Could they have been, perhaps, celebrating their freedom to farm? Could these people be just plain farmers?
Yeah. I liked these answers. I wasnt looking to be vindicated but it helped that there COULD be more than one answer here.
I want to do the right thing but I don’t see the world always the same way the majority does sometimes. Just like the farmer picture. I didn’t see slaves. I still don’t see slaves. I see people. Like me. Like you. I realize that that is not the experience of others so I DID take the prints down. The last thing I want to do is offend people. If I was African-American, I might see all photos of farmers from another time as slaves. I don’t know. But I take some comfort in seeing these people as people. Which is what they are. And for me? I am glad I don’t see color when I look at them. And I get that color is important, but the people underneath the color are more important. I feel the more distinguishing of differences we make about each other the greater the chasm we create.
I’ve thought about what to do with the prints. The farmers and I have a history now. We’ve been through some. While I believe some African-Americans don’t want to associate themselves with farming because of their ancestral background, I can assume there are a good handful of them that love being farmers or would love a slice of land they could call their own to grow their food. Next door to me. Farming + African-Americans doesn’t = Slavery all the time. I have decided to keep the prints and enjoy them in the privacy of my bedroom where there won’t be a chance to offend another and I can share my love of farming with people in the picutres who I am choosing to believe are people enjoying their love of farming.