Batwa Gaze ArtPrize 2021 Submission

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Batwa Gaze ArtPrize 2021 Submission


Old Eyes


Essential and omni-present
Eternal witness
Reading every thought
Observing every action

Without judgement
Without fear


Batwa Gaze-Old Eyes is a rendering of our spirit selves, the esoteric and highly individualised matter that our physical selves were stitched with in our mother’s womb. The Gaze is intentionally playful, bursting with colour and metaphorical details that echo the micro-elements of nature that are present in our bodies: phosphorous (antique phosphorous glass beads), salt water (pearls), skin (silk, linen, cotton), carbon (vintage lignite beads), bone (Kenyan cow horn), consciousness/awareness (quartz/crystals/garnet), etc. As an optimistic artist I like to think, when we are aware of this silent witness self, we can become better human beings.

Batwa Gaze takes its title and actual inspiration from the oldest homo sapiens sapiens inhabiting our planet, the Batwa People of the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa. From time memorial this region's tropical forests have been their homeland, where they lived in utter and complete harmony with nature and their animal neighbours. But, in 1992 the Bwindi Impenetrable Game Park became a World Heritage Site for the preservation of the endangered mountain gorillas, and most of the Batwa were evicted and are now a landless, nationless people.

Batwa Gaze-Old Eyes is an imagination of an ancient Batwa child peering through the forest wall, looking at a curiously “developing” world beyond it’s borders, without judgement, without fear. The creative objective was to render this imagination from materials that represent the Great Lakes region of the United States (Western Michigan in particular) and the cultures of its inhabitants, both past and present. It has been an exhilarating exercise in re-member-ing, honouring the history of this special geography.

The woodsy, leafy textile melange and precious stones mirror the lush nature of the region before human habitation. Re-purposed mink fur and tail remind us of the animal life that once roamed the area freely and the subsequent fur trade that once fueled the regions economy. The initial indigenous inhabitants are represented by the linen fringe dripping with cowrie shells, old amber resin from the Congo, and antique glass trade beads.

The role of Michigan during the antebellum and civil war epochs is captured by the coded ‘low hanging fruit’ or ‘earrings’, depending on what you see. The improvisational log cabin pillow sham embellished with new glass and antique phosphorous beads is an arial view of the safe houses that once dotted the landscape criss-crossing Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The pearl laced pin wheel/flying geese pillow sham patterns re-call these important Underground Railroad networks.

Early 20th century Eastern European migration to the state is captured by vintage and facetted Czechoslovakian glass beads that have travelled around the world to be included in the composition. They were made at the turn of the 20th century and were traded into West Africa at an unknown date. I purchased them from a Nigerian tradesman in Berkeley, California in 2018. From Berkeley to Marseille. From Marseille to Grand Rapids. That is quite a trade route!

In my opinion, the role of the artist is to use his or her art to improve the society or world in which they live. The job carries a responsibility and an obligation to objectively look at our world and to project, inspire and sometimes provoke deeper thought and consideration through our respective mediums. When we do our job well, the beauty that we create can become a window of self-reflection and thoughtfulness.


See the Making of Batwa Gaze

Digital interpretations of Batwa peoples and other collections can be found here at cole|aron gallery.


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