Majella Mark looks back to her own artwork, The Return, 2020, a celebration of African ancestry, and asks where can black men and women go to be safe in light of the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery?
I created a piece called The Return for the Postcards From The Edge benefit raising funds for Visual AIDS. Visual AIDS is an art organization dedicated to raising funds for AIDS research and supporting artists who have the disease. The annual charity is an auction of elaborate postcards. Some are photographs, many are paintings and a few are robust sculptures. Artists as big as Banksy to unknowns such as myself donate a work of art the size of a postcard to be sold for a flat fee of $85 USD.
The Return was golden brown with the clay mold of a vulva and box braids draped around it. Everything signified the roots of Africa and the beginning of humanity. You looked at the piece as the return to God who was portrayed as an African woman. The Return was supposed to be a reminder of those who have passed on, back to where they came from, far from this plane, but now I see it as a question. Should we really return to “where we came from”, Africa? The US isn’t making a convincing argument to stay, and I know many who have already put their homes on the market preparing to make the move back to the motherland.
Since March 1st, I have been quarantined in Brooklyn, NY. New York City is one of the hardest hit areas with COVID-19 in the United States. There are strict regulations and continuous precaution by everyone, as we try to get back to some type of normal. I was content at first with the “stay at home” order because I was able to work comfortably in my home and was afforded time to create. I am grateful to be home and still making a living, but I wasted time looking at Tik Tok videos, Youtube, strolling through my Instagram and hanging out on Zoom, building up my anxiety about the world ending outside. Besides COVID-19, Ahmaud Arbery was constantly displayed on my phone and in conversation. He was the subject on everyone’s lips, with responses of rage, sorrow, frustration and helplessness.
Then George Floyd’s death occurred. I was knees deep in hashtags and comments, trying to figure out what had happened. Yet again, I was reminded of the violent and chaotic nature of the world; reminded of the injustice that is happening to people every day without public awareness or outcry. This was when I took a moment to think about myself as a black woman in America, a black woman with a black brother, a black woman with a black father, either capable of becoming the next George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery or Elijah McClain. Feeling helpless in my apartment, I think about how I am contributing to the progression of equality for all people. How am I fixing the system? But I am also sitting scared of the outside world, convincing myself that it’s better in my living room. I’m safe from the world in my apartment. I can choose to pretend everything is fine in my safe space.
The Return comes back to mind. For years I have spent time building pride in my blackness, expressing it in my work and learning my history. I see my own value but realize that doesn’t make me bulletproof. As we continue to see one dead body after another, we march in the streets, hang signs from our windows in solidarity and sign petitions. Our cries are still not being heard, but this quarantine gave us time to think, to plan and reconsider the American dream. When I look at the piece now, I think about my ancestry. The ancestry that is phenomenal, not inferior, pushing me to continue the marathon towards prosperity and unity. When they yell “if you don’t like it here, go back to where you came from”, I now really consider it as a new beginning. I am considering now as I sit stuck in my apartment hiding from COVID, the possibility of sitting somewhere I would be welcomed without fear. Should we return in order to be seen and valued? Many are thinking if we have to be stuck in our homes, maybe it should be somewhere we are respected as human beings.
About Majella Mark
Majella Mark is a researcher and artist who has created pieces for many art exhibitions including Tiny Pricks and Visual Aids. She also conducted numerous social justice workshops such as The Wakanda Workshop, which addresses racial inequalities using Marvel’s Black Panther as a cultural reference and the Pvssy Plate Painting Party to address gender inequalities and the objectification of the female body inspired by Judy Chicago’s art piece, The Dinner Party. Majella is involved with many organizations including Support Creativity, Black Women’s BluePrint and others. She is also head of data for Womanly Magazine and Womanly Health. With her sister, Sherrie Mark, she founded the creative house Met God, She’s Black that consists of a podcast, online community, events, art activism and collaborations. Follow Majella on Twitter @MajellaMark
This piece was commissioned as part of Postcards in Isolation
In times of loss and separation, art can be a source of inspiration, solace and connection. In her self-conceived series, Postcards in Isolation, writer and editor Rochelle Roberts has turned to the art on her bedroom wall to reflect on the difficulties quarantine and social distancing presents. Looking at artists as disparate as Claude Cahun, Dorothy Cross, Eileen Agar and Dorothea Tanning, Roberts has explored the sadness, uncertainty and joy of life in lockdown, and demonstrated how art can help us grapple with such feelings. As a guest editor for Lucy Writers, Roberts has opened up the series to other writers. See here to read the series so far.