Words to Students about: "Natural History" by Lorraine Garcia-Nakata

I was asked to write about my large drawing entitled: “Natural History” for Hablamos Juntos Curriculum, a youth writing program of Pajaro Valley Arts, in California. I have been asked as an artist to participate in this program in prior years. I have been very impressed with this program and the youth writings that have derived from this important effort. Below are the questions posed and my answers regarding the artwork shown entitled “Natural History.”-– Lorraine García-Nakata, December 2018

Artist:                 Lorraine García-Nakata

Title:                  “Natural History”

Medium:            Charcoal/Conte

Dimension:          7 feet x 7 feet

Date:                    2015 (work created)

1.     What is the intent of the work?  Who or what inspired this particular piece of artwork? What made you want to create this piece in this way?
In 2014, I was in the Natural History Museum in New York. At the museum, our various cultures of color were referenced through “artifacts.” Our histories were described in terms of date, dimension, geographic region of origin, and other data, yet lacked information about why these cultures were truly great and how they sustained themselves since the beginning of human time––and without ruining the planet. The title “Natural History” references the scope and accuracy of our various histories. In that history resides the “precious knowledge” that our ancestors understood, yet is no longer part of our human education.

“Natural History” is also about the act of speaking for ourselves, about ourselves––which I refer to as “first voice.” I was introduced to this idea in the early 1970’s when listening to Indigenous elders. It has been a powerful tool in my ability to self-describe and self-determine as a woman, an artist, mother, and as an art and cultural specialist initiating important shifts in the world. 

“Natural History” also acknowledges the African Diaspora in our various cultures. For example, when looking at the cultural lineage of México and Latin America, * “la Tercera Raíz––Third Root, Africa, with the indigenous seen as the First Root and the Spanish as the Second Root of Mexico” has been embedded in the cultural identity and lineage for centuries. Yet, only in the early 1990’s has the “Third Root” begun to be acknowledged in the Mexican historical dialogue or canon. In the United States, the African Diaspora is also well embedded in our popular culture as well as within the blood lineage of the various cultures that reside in this country. It begs the question of why so many people are openly hostile to or in denial of this part of their own identity, history, and lineage even though they reference that African Diaspora on a daily basis through speech, gesture, music, clothing, and other areas of our popular culture.

*México’s Hidden Black History, Morris Thompson, 4-8-10

2.     Your artwork creates a dialogue with the student as they relate to and interact with your work. How could a viewer look more closely at the details of your work? How could he/she be more intimately involved with your artwork? Do you have some specific questions that you might pose to a student to encourage discussion about your art piece.

I often work large and in black and white. In this drawing I sparingly use blue and red. Black and white can help to focus the subject. The blue and red marks help to raise and highlight a hidden and less obvious set of messages. The use of the hand is evident in several ways. One hand is drawn open and shown to one side of the woman. I sign my name with my handprint (the way ancient cave artists’ signed). The hand marks in the background, show a texture representing a connection to our “ancients” whose hand marks actively attempt to share “precious knowledge.” 

The protagonist, the person shown, is a woman. It is my feeling, more and more, that it is the women, some small children, and youth who will help shift our collective lives, our planet, back onto a healthier footing. If you notice who in current events is making this country wake up and stand up straight, it seems to be the more aware women, high school youth, and the children (who through their suffering), appeal to our basic humanity to take action. It is important to notice these things and pay attention.

Lorraine’s questions to students:

1. Is there one part of the drawing that most makes you feel something? If so, what is that part of the drawing and what does it make you think of and feel?

2. Is there something you have been thinking about a lot (about the world, your life, other) that you would like to say out loud? If you had a very, very large piece of drawing paper, what would you draw that can share that thought or idea?

3.     What would you like them to experience and notice?  (You might consider hidden clues, seeing something unexpected, connections between facts and feelings, art and life, or how they might be inspired to create their own stories and artworks.) 

Art is like having a very close and very wise friend that you have known over most of your life. It is friend with whom I “visit” and “discuss” things when I want and need to. I might have an idea about what we will discuss during the next visit, but the conversation finds its own direction, and often reveals something I needed to know. That’s the best part. I’m relaxed about our “conversations” and each time look forward to what I will learn about the world, myself, or another the to way consider or envision the future. My drawings are a record of each of those encounters and conversations and these drawings allow others to also share in the “discussion.”

That “friend,” is really you. The friend is also the voice of ancient elders who have found a way to pass on their information as you draw, sing, play music, write, dance or any other process you enjoy. The more you create, the more deeply you can be in life, your life––and then inspire the lives of others. For that reason, art is important to us all.

So, go ahead. I’m waiting to read, view, witness what you have in mind––because I believe young minds have something to share that we all need to hear. Go ahead, trust yourself, we are waiting.––Lorraine García-Nakata

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