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Adriana is one of the most inspiring artists I know whose passion around the climate crisis really does invite one to stop and think creatively about how to make a difference individually as well as collectively. Learn more and be inspired through her own words and images shared in this guest post.

Adriana Prat stands next to her work, Breaking Free.

I am so thrilled and honored to write in Cynthia’s blog! I first met Cynthia years ago at the Riverside Gallery during one of our group exhibitions and since then I have always admired the poetry and poignancy of her blog posts, her empathy and humbleness, and the beauty and sensitivity of her photographs. I am delighted to have more opportunities to interact with Cynthia and her beautiful art lately through the i3C Artists Group we both belong to, and that I will talk about further here.

Pollution and the Gold

I am a non-representational artist who intuitively creates mixed media paintings, while mostly meditating on the urgency of the environmental crisis, its impact, and the adaptation all ecosystems must go through to survive. I work driven by my emotions and by the physicality of the art materials, open to happy accidents and chance, and with a strong thirst for color and texture.  

Exploiting Beauty

During my early days in Argentina, I spent hours drawing or building craft projects. My father, an environmentalist ahead of his time, influenced me into value nature and the other species, and to be curious about the world that surrounds us. This early life experience impacted my decision to study science. After I moved to US, a more introspective life reconnected me with my old love for artmaking and I became an artist who worked part-time but with passion and determination, even while working full-time in science and raising a family that was always supportive of my life choices.

Topographies of the Exploitation of Our Land II

Because I lived much of my early life under a military dictatorship in Argentina and later as an immigrant in the US who could not vote, it was not until I became a full-time artist and a US citizen that I was able to speak up through my art. I am focused in using my art to bring awareness and action for the urgent environmental crisis.

Change is on its Way

Like in other aspects of life, I face a dilemma of what materials to use in my art practice that are better for the environment. In the spirit of refusing, reducing, reusing, repurposing and/or recycling, I paint mainly on corrugated cardboards from packaging materials, or on rejected, found surfaces, like canvases I find on the curb, or I thrift, and I push myself to consume only a small amount of new art materials. I believe the climate crisis resolution is an ethical and moral obligation we have for our future generations and for the other species that share our beloved planet Earth. By finding more sustainable ways to produce my art, I feel I move in the direction of halting my environmental impact in the world.

Your Brain on Climate Crisis News

Informed by my science background, my abstract work frequently resembles topographies that can be imagined either on a microscopic or a macroscopic scale. At a microscopic level, they are evocative of the cells of organisms I have studied and manipulated during my scientific research days, and of the metabolic paths and intracellular structures I have analyzed and investigated.

Andriana standing next to various works.

At the same time, while I paint, I find myself exploring these forms or topographies at a macroscopic level and they seem reminiscent of maps, geographies, or even our planet, in its constant struggle to survive due to the constant human-induced exploitation. Some of my works evoke the explorations found on vintage maps, much like itineraries of digging expeditions set to exploit the vital and finite natural resources (water, fossil fuels, gemstones, etc) found underground. In some of my paintings, the textures and marks I introduce delineate approximate concentric maps that evoke how some of the land’s ecosystems, the coastlines, for example, are changing due to ocean water raising. As global warming continues with the consequent water rising, some islands, lands are doomed to disappear…  

Treasure Island

You can see more of my work on my website www.agprat.com or my Instagram account @agprat.art.

As part of my curatorial activities, I am actively curating the i3C (inspiring Change for the Climate Crisis) Artists Group and its exhibits. The i3C Artists Group has currently over 20 multidisciplinary artists (and counting…) from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada. The i3C artists’ diverse backgrounds and art practices enhance our shared commitment to the topic of the environmental crisis and our mission to inspire action to help resolve the environmental crisis. The group’s exhibits are conceived as an evolving and ongoing project, with iterations in different venues to continue spreading the i3C artists group’s mission. The group’s art processes and visions vary: some artists explore the impact of consumerism by reinventing reclaimed materials, or by creating a dialog with humanity’s waste and pollution; some celebrate the natural beings and their interconnection, pointing to their unique beauty or vulnerabilities; and some address the effects of climate change in our communities or global ecosystems.

You can check out the i3C Artists Group’s website (www.i3CArtists.com) or our Instagram account @i3cartists to get inspired and to know more about the group’s events in art centers, gallery spaces, and other venues.

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petunias in the garden

I photographed the petunias in the garden today but I don’t have any petunia stories except that my mother used to plant them in the raised beds my father built for her in Virginia. Beds maybe 1′ or 2′ by 4′ or 5′. Nothing fancy. Plants purchased from the farmers market in downtown Lynchburg. Straightforward colors of red, purple and white come to mind. Although I do remember in later years when I returned home after college the selections had expanded and there were striped and maybe spotted petunias in the beds. As a child, in the early evening hours when the sun (and therefore heat) was low, I remember my mom and I would go out and pick the dead flowers to encourage new growth. It came across as something calming for my mother. My dad’s domain was the vegetable garden. The flowers were my mother’s and I think she cherished it.

Even after I moved from home I often managed to garden though I was not drawn to petunias. I have a growing fondness for them and an appreciation of how they fill in a container and complement other plants. As a child I didn’t appreciate them at all except as an opportunity to stick my hands in the dirt to help plant them and an opportunity to hang out with my mom as she took care of them. I was completely clueless as she included me in this process of caretaking and nurturing. I’m still not great at it with petunias. I try to find new varieties that need no deadheading. I seek out colors that complement the “main” plants I have growing in a container. And yet as seasons continue to pass I find myself planting more of those things from my childhood that I took for granted like petunias, scarlet sage and sweet william. Spring is near done and summer approaches. We’ll see what growing opportunities, prompted by the past or by the current moment, present themselves.

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basil from the garden for pesto

Yesterday Steve and I were looking down at a single sheet of paper. His last will and testament dated August 2018. In that year during that month just a few days before that will was completed we had sat in a doctor’s office, the top in his field. He stared intently at a scan of Steve’s brain. He eventually nodded and essentially said I see where it is, it is growing fast so how about we do the surgery early next week.

What followed was this blur of activity as Steve kept us focused on the practical like preparing his office to be without their scientist, contacting financial institutions, filling the fridge, making sure I knew passwords, and of course sharing the news with family and friends. We had been in the process of updating his will and doing my first will anyway. But there was no time to complete that process so the lawyer coached him through what to put on that single sheet and to sign with witnesses present.

As I have told Steve over the years he attracts a strong team and the medical team was strong for the surgery. And they were strong for the unexpected second brain surgery that took place the following year and the subsequent intensive physical therapy. In between the two surgeries my youngest brother died in Virginia. Steve couldn’t travel with me. Following the second surgery my second oldest brother died. Steve determinedly made that trek. He could not do so when my eldest brother died only a few months later of cancer during the midst of the pandemic. Nor could I.

And in the midst of all that we closed on a house just as the pandemic struck. It was one of the most onerous processes I’ve ever been through. We moved ourselves in. The backyard was a demolition area but we managed to use every nook and cranny on the side of the house to grow a garden. Steve had his tomatoes and basil. I had my herbs and flowers. I accidentally hoarded eggs instead of toilet tissue and Steve was able to work in the basement and build us a dining room table. We zoomed zoomed zoomed like everyone else for work and to connect with family and friends. We did make excursions around the neighborhood with me constantly snapping at Steve to pull up his mask. We were cautious but not afraid. In a sense we were resolute … you deal with what comes at you because that’s all you can do.

Before August, nearly three years later, we will have our official wills completed. That’s why we were looking at that older document, to remind ourselves, and to reflect, “Wow. Three years? Is that when this whirlwind journey began?”

The yard that was a demolition project is now a full-fledged garden with different raised beds that Steve built. He has retired, more or less, and now enjoys the ability if not the outright necessity of impromptu midday naps. I was able to remain employed and of late have been given leave to do more writing and historical research. I’m committed to resuming photography and more creative writing, with what extra time I don’t know.

Soon Steve and I will go outside to pick some basil. Pesto will be made along with dinner. He moves a little slower in the kitchen in the evening hours so I will be sous chef and perhaps take some photos for instagram. I’ve had more pesto this year than in all the earlier years of my life. I can’t complain. I don’t think I can complain about much of anything.

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Late evening zooms are wearing me down but I am going to try to watch tomorrow at 7pm, “Every Pecan Tree: Trees, Meaning and Memory in Enslaved People’s Live.” It is part of a lecture series produced by the Harvard Arnold Arboretum.

The title was provocative and made me think about trees in my life. I photograph a lot of trees and as the sun pours through the window now I know at some point, I hope at some point, I will bundle up and head out the door with my camera. The branches are all mostly bare of course but with several days in the 60s coming … I will try to get some before and after shots. Some things might accidentally bloom by week’s end. We’ll see …

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a pecan tree. I’ve got books that help me identify birds and herbs, butterflies and moths but none about trees. I think I take trees for granted. The only tree I think I ever learned to recognize by leaf and seed was the maple tree because it grew next door in my Aunt’s yard and my brother grew one from one of its helicopter seeds and my dad actually planted the resulting seedling in our backyard though he did so with a big sigh because he knew one day its shade would cover his garden but he did so for the smile on my brother’s face.

Our yard was small but for the most part you don’t need a lot of space to grow trees.

We had a green gage plum tree. It was on the fence line so that meant the neighbors could pick some plums if they wanted too. My dad made wine that was apparently very tasty. He never let me drink it though. I suspect it was rather high octane. There was an apricot tree that I think produced one apricot over the span of its long life. The next door neighbor had a huge black walnut tree but I don’t remember people eating the nuts back then.

Across the street a neighbor had a towering pear tree that bloomed so white in spring. When the wind blew it was like snow was falling. The smell was divine. The fruit was so so. Small, green, hard to eat fresh but my mother would make small jars of pear jam that we’d eat on hot biscuits. Down the street was a sprawling mulberry tree. I heard stories of people making mulberry wine but mostly people hated the mess the berries made as they fell to the ground and they squished beneath your shoes. I fixed my dad a plate of them once, using my new tea party set, and he ate them with a smile. Citrus trees that people mentioned were before my time. No apples in the neighborhood and today that seems strange.

During the lecture, Tiya Miles, Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Harvard University, will explore “the importance of trees as protectors of bodies and spirits, as sites of violence, as memory keepers, and as historical witnesses in the Black experience of captivity and resistance. Ultimately, time spent with these examples will underscore the centrality of the natural world to Black, and indeed, human, survival.”

If you’re interested in the lecture, you can find out more information here: https://environment.harvard.edu/event/every-pecan-tree-trees-meaning-and-memory-enslaved-people%E2%80%99s-lives

Meanwhile, I think the air has warmed just enough for me to venture out into the world with my camera. We’ll see which trees speak to me.

Have a good day!

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While puttering around the kitchen this morning I suddenly yearned for a particular cup of tea. I could see it clearly, could almost smell it. But instead of Lipton tea with sugar and a long pour of Pet’s evaporated milk, I made myself some chai. I smiled at the memory though. Lipton’s was my mother’s tea. Really, the family’s tea. She never added anything except a bit of sugar but my brothers would empty the can of milk and the sugar bowl. Awhile back I noted my oldest brother’s grandson doing the same. I happened to be sitting by my brother at the time. I looked at him and with a raised eyebrow asked, “Well, I wonder where he learned that from?”

Yellow onions were a fixture in our home too. I’ve not cooked with them probably in 15 plus years having made a gustatory switch to red onions. But while walking through the grocery store earlier this month the yellow onions caught my attention. I was compelled to pick up one. Slicing through that first yellow onion brought tears to my eyes with its wonderfully pungent scent. A forgotten scent remembered. As I washed my hands before I accidentally rubbed my eyes I remembered how my father used to cry as he cut these same onions. It was a task that my mom often had him do. Now I know why. But I can’t help myself. Every time I cut one I now raise the half to my nose and inhale deep. I don’t feel compelled to eat them raw, as I must have as a child, and as I remember my father doing all the time. There is something simply serene in slow cooking with the onion, sauteing it in butter, or slicing it up for roasting vegetables. There is an upwelling of familiarity and home even in a different time and place and home.

There are other foods, flavors, scents from childhood that are “upwelling” this month. They come unbidden and they are welcome and so far they have always brought a smile.

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Pinto beans simmering in a pot with a ham hock and bay leaf. To my young mind, those beans seemed to cook all day. Then we ate it served over white rice. My father and I had sweet tooths. We spooned sugar on top of our beans and rice. It is the only dry bean I remember my mother cooking. I heard about red beans but she only cooked pinto (except, I forgot, for the black eyed peas you have to cook to ring in the New Year). I don’t remember if there was a particular day of the week for cooking beans and rice. For instance, pot roast, baked chicken, baked rice pudding, for example, they were Sunday foods, something special. I suspect beans were a weekday food because she could put the pot on the stove on a low flame and do all those other household tasks. Kale or collard greens might be served on the side. Probably mustard greens, too, but I didn’t like her mustard greens (another dish where my father would sprinkle some sugar). I remember the taste of kale seasoned with pork and spooning the potlikker that was left in the bottom of the pan. Once my younger brother was banished from the table for doing something rude and so I had the potlikker all to myself. That little hellion came up behind me and tossed in a handful of food scraps meant for Fuzzy, our dog. I was furious but I stilled loved him afterwards. That was in Virginia. Forty years later living in New England I’ve learned to play with my beans, making bean salads, mixing the colors and textures, sometimes getting so caught up in “painting” with the colors — red, white, black, green — that I lose sight of taste. But I have not done a thing with pinto beans. Until now. Why now? Because the Whole Foods shopper substituted a can of pinto beans for my requested can of white beans. The can is sitting on the kitchen counter. It makes me smile when I look at it. Soon I’ll open it. Served on the side will likely be kale cooked with olive oil and garlic. Brown rice most likely. No sugar anymore. Just good food and good memories to share.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/potlikker-from-slave-plantations-to-today/7129/

https://www.thespruceeats.com/your-black-eyed-pea-questions-answered-1640029

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Steve’s been having a good time in the new kitchen and with the fresh herbs. I picked up the salmon but decided it was good exercise for him to go up and down the various flights of stairs to select herbs for the fish and my artistic vision of a caprese salad.

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Only a few weeks ago, maybe even a week ago, he would have placed the salmon on the table and said, “Okay, go ahead. Take a picture and send it to William.”

Somehow my husband and my oldest brother bonded over food. Two very different people who found common ground in cooking. Given how infrequently they met I find it interesting they developed such respect for one another. Given that the two of them were of a certain generation, Steve, looking toward retirement one day, was hoping the two of them could start a little restaurant called The Two Grumpies. My brother, who had run restaurants before having to retire early due to health reasons, was not opposed to the idea and for awhile actively kept an eye open for locations in his hometown of Norfolk. But then Steve took some health hits and so did my brother though I don’t think he ever told me the full story. William could be a rather close-lipped person.

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Steve is staying strong and continues to cook but no more pictures to William. William passed away this week after a recent diagnosis of late stage cancer. One of the things that must have peeved him most was that the disease took away his appetite.

Somewhere I have a picture of him holding me as a toddler. We had a bit of an age difference. In the photo you would see a plump little baby being held tight in the arms of a tall, strong, young Black man with a great smile.

In the past ten months I’ve lost all three of my brothers. I’m not sure people believe me when I say I don’t feel alone. I feel like they are more a part of me than ever. A close friend said, “Cynthia, does this mean when you’re walking in the world, you’ve got the shadows of three six-feet plus black men at your back?” I said, “Well, I suppose.” She remarked, “Oh, goodness. It was hard enough keeping you out of trouble before. Now you’re going to be a real badass!”

Perhaps so. 🙂

 

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me, Keith and Donald, late 1970s

I was looking for the flash fiction story, The Blackest Sheep, that I wrote almost eighteen years ago. It was published in a small online zine and I think I made $5 for it as part of a writing contest. The zine doesn’t exist anymore and the only hard copy I have of the story is in a box at the bottom of a lot of other boxes. In short, it was a story based on truth of a black sheep of the family who, justifiably so, could be judged for all of the bad things he’d done and would likely do … and yet there was so much good that was there too. I wrote the story out of a sense that so many people might never know or remember that goodness once he was gone. And so through the lens of fiction I recounted how my older brother taught me how to bare my fist so that no one would pick on me (or at least never do it again), how, even though I was the “smart one” in the family, he patiently helped me make my way through homework or at least convinced me to keep my behind in the chair and finish what I needed to do.

William and Donald, late 1960s (maybe)

My favorite remembrance was how he, when asked by my mom, to walk my younger brother and I to school in the snow, he had us walk with our backs to the wind so that we would be shielded as he led us forward. And later in life, long after I’d written that story, he still did good things. He would come across archaic tomes of English literature left behind in a rooming house and keep it for me. Knowing my interest in photography, he would find frames at the flea market and other places and keep them for me. Keep in mind he was in Virginia and I am in Massachusetts. I did collect the books and the frames when I visited. He always called on my birthday and every holiday. As his body failed on him, he loved to just sit and watch the cooking channel … he had loved to cook especially for large groups of people … even though he could no longer eat most of what was being prepared. He found great childlike joy in little things. He was quick to laugh … and he could be quick to anger (especially when drinking too much) and quick to feel depressed because eventually even he could look back and see the different forks in the road of his life and the paths taken that perhaps should not have been.

DonaldWayneStaples

My brother Donald died just a few days ago with our oldest brother William by his side. He leaves no children but he leaves many friends and family behind who loved him and cherish the memories of his smile and laughter.  It is near incomprehensible to think of him and our youngest brother Keith passing away so closely together. For better and for worse, they tried to look out for each other, and I guess that is all that any of us can do.

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Donald and Keith in later years

P.S. Several years ago, while pondering what more to do, I wrote the following post called tea. The unnamed soul of the drama was Donald. https://wordsandimagesbycynthia.com/2015/08/18/tea/

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This is a ramble with no meaning except I felt a need to put fingers to the keyboard and share an experience from this day.  I’ve been saving watermelon rind trying to decide if I will try to make some watermelon pickles. Now, I have never eaten such a pickle in my life though when I was little I used to admire their beauty in big jars on store counters. As a child I ate plenty of the fruit itself. My oldest brother still reminisces about the big ones with the big black seeds. I think I remember watermelons so big I could sit on them. Those are hard to find. Small, round, seedless (and in my humble opinion oftentimes tasteless) has become the store norm. I’ve lost my taste for watermelon flesh though I’ve been buying watermelon slices of late. Not for me but for a certain person in my life who needs to drink more water but doesn’t and so I simply place saucers of sliced cold watermelon in front of him. Hydration is hydration.

But now I have these rinds … and I’m in a creative place in my life right now … and so I told him I might try my hand at pickles. And when this person heard my intentions, he remembered words from a poem. “Reflections on a gift of watermelon pickles,” he said. We looked it up, a poem by John Tobias.  As I began to read it out loud, Steve, who has a wicked memory for poetry, stopped me to say, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the poem. I just know those few words.” And so I finished reading the poem and he was silent and when I looked up I saw that he had been moved to tears.

I think my big brother who is near Steve’s age would cry too. Not so my 12-year old friend. Her response to reflections on a life lived would be quite different than people five decades older. This is a rambling post with no photographs because there is no photograph that can compare to the rich imagery embedded throughout the poem … except maybe one day I’ll come across one of those big ol’ watermelons and split it open and let the sun shine on the pink flesh, black seeds and white rind … and maybe that would be an appropriate pairing of image with the following words. We’ll see …

 

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

by John Tobias

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That’s not his name but that’s what he represents. This is one of my littlest cousins, Aiden. His favorite color is red … or at least it used to be. He wrote me a letter (with some loving assistance) asking me about my favorite color. I wrote him back and told him orange … or at least it used to be. When I watch, read and listen to the news, because I have to do that, it can be quite dispiriting to think about the future. But then I can think of this little person with his hands clasped, ready to take on the world. With loving assistance …

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