Friday, September 16, 2011

"Remembering 9/11" By Georgette Norman (a.k.a. "Gigi"), Final Revisions Completed Morning of 9/11/2011

The tragedy on September 11, 2001 devastated and destroyed many lives and the pain and impact linger a decade later. Like many people in the U.S. and around the world, I spent most of this past weekend reflecting on this tragedy, and watched programs that commemorated this painful and sad day. When we met in August to discuss my upcoming art exhibitions, Georgette Norman, the Director of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama of Troy University, who is also a poet and author of phenomenal volumes such as "From These Roots"(1993), shared a draft of a poem that she had written to reflect on the 10th anniversary of September 11 and that she was scheduled to read as part of a commemoration in Montgomery on that occasion. With her permission, I am sharing it here in a post on my art blog.

I used to be a poet, poetry was my main form of creative expression, and for years, I composed at least one poem per month at minimum; the highest honor that I could pay to anyone was to honor them in a poem. Now that I no longer write poetry, I believe that my quilts are my poetry. Community service has been an ongoing aspect of my life and work and the same has been true for Georgette. We both believe in the importance of serving our community and giving back. Indeed, I first met Georgette after I finished college at Spelman in 1993 when we were both volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a Girl Scout camp in Montgomery (now many years later a camp for boys). We were assigned to the same unit and worked with a remarkable group of girls ages 11 and 12 for a week, coordinating various activities and projects for them day by day, which culminated with a day trip to Camp Kiwanis in Wetumpka. The girls and I alike were very much in awe of "Miss Georgette," as I also called her back then. I was really inspired to hear about her work teaching college students and the drama performances that she directed; her brilliance and dynamism as a teacher reminded me of that of some of my professors from Spelman.

Georgette and I kept in touch after our initial meeting while volunteering. At that time, she was the founder and executive director of the Alabama African American Arts Alliance. I enjoyed fellowshipping in her veritable arts salon whenever I was home from graduate school at Duke, and attending so many of its fantastic and stimulating gatherings, where I met many people over the years such as veteran civil rights leaders, actors from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and performers in the Montgomery City Orchestra. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be exposed to such remarkable people as an emerging artist as I completed my graduate work. I appreciated her support for my emergent work as a quilt artist, which she encouraged me to continue and to exhibit someday.

I had begun to quilt during my senior year at Spelman, when I made a Delta quilt in honor of the sorority that I'd joined in the spring of 1992. I made a couple of smaller Delta quilts, and had also started quilt series called "Family" and "Daughters of Africa," and begun an "Africa" quilt. Over several years, I completed about 10 quilts in all across those series. One day, I sat at Georgette's house and cut out 9 small color-silhoutte applique blocks, my earliest quilting style, and was inspired to return a few weeks later and see that she had stitched and mounted them on a beautiful quilt that she had made and featured in her loft study and studio. It was an amazing collaboration when I was 22 and just starting out, and it made me feel as good to see my art quilt work hanging in her home as I felt when I gave a friend a "Daughters of Africa" quilt and then visited and saw that she had it hanging in her hallway and framed in glass. In 2008, she brought it to the opening reception for my debut art exhibition so that the guests could see it, and again, it was gratifying to see that she had kept it all those years.

Once I became a professor in the University of California system, I continued to make art a part of my life's natural rhythms as I did my scholarly work. By the time that I was tenured in 2005 (with all articles from my book manuscript published as lead articles in journals and a unanimous vote by my colleagues), I had also produced a body of art quilt work in the unique applique, three-dimesional, painted-quilt style that I had been developing over the years of living in California. Georgette and I began to work toward my debut art exhibition, which came off beautifully in the summer of 2008, went into an encore, and got excellent feedback. It was a pleasure during that time to work with Alabama State Representative Thad McClammy and the ED Nixon Foundation, who sponsored a field trip for 4th and 5th graders from ED Nixon Elementary School, to see my art quilts on exhibition and to dialogue with me about them. For two years at ages 16 and 17, as student council vice-presisent and then president at the historic St. Jude Educational Institute, I had volunteered weekly every Friday after school at the Cleveland Avenue YMCA (now Rosa Parks Avenue), with the support and sponsorship of Robert James, in a program that I developed for children ages 6-13, where I tutored them, coordinated their play activities, and taught them lessons in social graces. This encounter with the children during my debut exhibition took me right back to the same community where I had spent so much of my time voluteering as a teen, and where I'd had so many meaningful experiences.

It is also an amazing coincidence that my first art exhibition happened to be held at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery when considering that I won a first-place prize for a poem that I wrote honoring Rosa Parks as a high school senior at St. Jude- and that my great aunt, the civil rights leader Johnnie Rebecca Carr, is often referred to as the best friend of Rosa Parks. Their lifelong friendship is depicted in the Disney film starring Angela Bassett. Incidentally, my quilt of Rosa Parks, part of my Civil Rights Movement Series, will incorporate the poem that I wrote on her years ago entitled "Together We Will Win," a dramatic work in three voices that I once performed on the quad for students at UC Davis in a tribute to her. It is wonderful, too, that both Georgette and I happened to be interviewed and featured several times throughout Lauren Cross's phenomenal documentary film on African American quilts, "The Skin Quilt Project," a 2010 pick for the International Black Women's Film Festival.

I have also been enjoying the journey toward my second major quilt exhibition (2015) and some other smaller exhibitions of my work scheduled in between. I was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1971 in the post-civil rights era, and attended all-black Catholic schools in the city from grades 1-12; the U.S. South has been my primary site of intellectual formation and artistic development and engagement. Furthermore, the U.S. South and civil rights have been ongoing themes in my art repertoire. I believe that artists and intellectuals achieve their greatest potential when we remain true to who we are and stay grounded. My art project has always been organically grounded in the community outreach that has been an ongoing part of my life's work and purpose and commitment to making a difference. The time that I committed to volunteering and helping children in Montgomery at ages 16 or 17, and the fact that Georgette and I met when both of us were volunteering, are early encounters in life that have blessed me exponentially over the years as an artist and as a person in totally unexpected ways; the choices that I made as a teen and young adult aimed to help make a difference in the lives of children, but have also made all the difference for me.

Georgette Norman is a dream curator and I enjoy working with her. Here is her poem.

Remembering 9/11

It had all the makings of an ordinary day
After navigating the hustle and bustle of getting to work,
People had settled into their daily routine
Who knew that in a few short hours our nation would be forever changed
Live a humble
Humble Lord
Humble yourself, the Bell Done Rung
Out of blue
on September 11, 2001 the Bell Rung
the majestic iconic twin towers reaching upward to heaven from the heart of New York’s financial district
imploded from a directed hit from an airplane
foreshadowing the heights
from which our nation would fall
What happened… the Bell Rung… who’s to blame...the Bell Rung
Exploding buildings regurgitated innocent bodies
Others leapt to their deaths from the inferno
plummeting to the street
Twisted steel missiles flew through the air
mingled with shards of glass
maiming and killing aimlessly
Our Guardians
valiantly and vigilantly plunged into the wreckage
for far too many it became their funeral pyre

Ash drifted down like snow,
covering everything
burning eyes,
our brains
And then a tidal wave of smoke and debris rushed through the streets
etching fear on our collective psyche
destroying our sense of security and assuredness
and we became one with the rubble of twisted and shattered steel and glass
no longer delusional
fully aware that the impenetrable bubble of our USA was an illusion after all
Out of darkness and flying debris a voice cries, “Somebody help me. Somebody help me.”
The Bell Done Rung
In disbelief we gawked
we gasped
we helped,
we died
And later the open space and gaping hole left in the aftermath,
a wound on our soul
The Bell Done Rung
So many unanswered questions
fallen tears
shattered lives
The Bell Done Rung
10 years later it still seems all too surreal
And our mind’s stored images of terror…grief…anxiety
Still quicken our heart beats and seize our breath
But… catastrophe became our nation’s blessing
We are a resilient people
with false pride, arrogance and a sense of entitlement wrung out of us like water from a sponge,
we rebounded with a surge of courage and determination
emerged a more humble people
re-discovering love… individual and collective…
ME became WE
and we unleashed on each other the depths of our HUMANity

However, it was short lived
Let us never forget the attack that signaled the end of a supercilious nation
never forget the innocents, who paid the ultimate price,
our guardians who walked into a blazing inferno risking life and limb, not just out of duty
and continue to support those who need it most …WE, the survivors
Yes, years have passed
Our wounds have not healed
But as the images of terror, grief and anxiety replay in our mind’s eye
Let us not let our fears gnaw us into implosion
Rather let us remember those weeks after the attack when our font runneth over with love
concern for each other
red and yellow, black and white
If we but continue to walk the path we forged
let the last vestiges of greed and power be wrung out of our nation
and put PEOPLE first
we WILL heal
Live a humble
Humble Lord
Humble yourself,
the Bell
Done Rung

No comments:

Post a Comment