Community-based Artist, Educator
"Creative processes are so essential for figuring out how to tell our own stories and make sense of the world around us."
Describe yourself as a maker/artist/creative
I am a community-based artist and educator based in Baltimore, where I've lived for the past 16 years. From 2010-2020, my creative practice focused on my work with FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, creating public art to build a culture of consent and uplift stories of fellow survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence.
What are you currently working on?
Right now, I am finally finishing up a project called Inheritance of White Silence. In this project, based on my own 3 year (and lifelong) process of reflection and conversation, I am excavating the ways in which I as a white person am complicit in the system of white supremacy through internalized psychological and behavioral patterns. In Inheritance of White Silence, I embroidered a set of white linen napkins from my grandmother with symptoms of internalized white superiority. A second set was cut with statements about ways to resist these patterns, to reduce harm and also to stop the cycle in the next generation of my family.
The premise of the project is that in addition to material benefits, there is a psychology and embodiment of white superiority that is unavoidable for anyone in America, and that we need more avenues to understand and uproot it; and that alongside structural and financial reparations, investigating and undoing this legacy is crucial to disrupting and ultimately ending the caste system of race that we live within.
Has your work shifted in response to the pandemic? How?
The month before the lockdown began, I had just left my job at FORCE, the artist and activist collective I co-founded in 2010, to begin new projects. So even without the pandemic, I was going to need to get myself back into my studio and give myself space and time to process my next steps as an artist and activist. This was always going to be challenging as a community based artist - I work best with people! - but this alone time was necessary.
I initially began working on Inheritance of White Silence while in a period of conflict at FORCE, when we were looking at how white supremacy culture showed up in work habits and organizational decisions -- so trying to complete the project just after leaving FORCE felt right. That first phase of reflection resulted in the embroidered napkins, reflecting on stories from my family or habits that I have, that communicated values that I now understand are part of white supremacy culture. But I was stuck on completing the project because I wanted this naming to be paired with acts of resistance. This is where the main life event that defined my pandemic experience comes in.
Just days after the lockdown became official in Maryland, I found out I was pregnant. Carrying my first baby and thinking about raising a white child in this world, made the act of resistance feel more clear. I thought about the need to name and make visible the otherwise "invisible" forces of white supremacy culture, so that as my baby Willow (who is now 4 months old!) grows up, they are better equipped to resist and reject it. With the time at home during the pandemic, the slow process of cutting these statements of resistance from the napkins finally felt possible. The last two steps -- photographing the napkins, and figuring out how to connect with people about the project -- made me reach out beyond my solo practice. I collaborated with Jonna McKone and Tanya Garcia, who photographed the napkins.
Now, I am currently working with my cousin, Ansley Clark, and a Standing Up for Racial Justice chapter in Washington State and here in Baltimore, to organize a workshop or a series of workshops, to invite other folks to engage in their own process of reflection about white supremacy culture, inheritance, and stories that are passed down in our families. After this summer's mass Black Lives Matter uprising, I think more white people than ever before are clear about the fact that we have a lot of unpacking and unlearning to do to be truly antiracist, and that this work is essential in order to be useful allies in the movement for Black lives and structural work to defund the police. So as it turns out, I think that it's the right time to be carving out space for myself and other people to continue their anti-racism journey and deepen our understanding of what it's going to take to uproot white supremacy.
In your opinion, what role does the creative process play in helping us confront our “new” reality?
Creative processes are so essential for figuring out how to tell our own stories and make sense of the world around us. For me, making stuff is incredibly healing and leads into these long rambling processes like the one I described above.
I think the challenge for me is always allowing myself time in my studio to experiment, think, try things, fail, try again. Like many others, the pandemic had a really interesting effect on my sense of time -- I slowed down, starting doing things like baking bread (yes that was another pandemic project for me!), gave myself space to finish things in my studio, made time to meditate and read. The time and my pregnancy also gave me more patience with myself and more regard for my own well being. AND, at the same time, I saw a heightened impatience with systems designed to keep systems of oppression in place all around me.
The pandemic laid bare the deep injustice and inequity of this country and people stood up and refused to accept it any more during last summer's Black Lives Matter protests. For me, this pairing of patience with self and urgency to dismantle systems helped me understand, maybe for the first time, that caring for ourselves and taking the time needed to keep ourselves whole and resilient, is not running counter to the urgency to make big structural changes in our world -- it's actually an essential part of rejecting and refusing to be absorbed by white supremacy.
See more of Hanna's work here.