Breathing Lessons

Breathing Lessons

With a new focus on contemporary art and voices, Girl Museum is thrilled to present Breathing Lessons: Art And Poetry from darlene anita scott.

darlene anita scott:

Racism and sexism demonize the very existence of girls of color. These pieces represent some of my own experiences as not just a girl of color, but as a good girl.

A good girl: bright, perhaps a bit of an introvert, perhaps not romantically pursued or interested in the pursuit for these reasons. Of course, these traits are likely not all she is, but when she is told that her brownness negates her goodness, she must determine how to be herself—all of herself—anyway.

Tropism is the biological phenomenon that describes how she does it. In tropism, external agents determine the direction of an organism’s growth. For better or worse, it is often external agents that show a good girl of color how to grow into herself; they determine what she will look like and how she will act.

These collages show the good girl of color in various stages and states of that performance. Her behavior is necessarily organic since her identity is mostly erased and she must shape it on her own.

A Guide to Picking Scabs, 2016, digital print

Good girls of color are often overlooked. Sometimes it is because they choose masks, as the image suggests, or they perform roles assigned them by outside entities.

How She Killed His Vibe

They try to identify her by markings
that are not plotted on the map
of the conversation on the slippery couch
scan them for something you call recognition
knowing full well the purple of her,
borrowed from you to place on a pedestal
like you promised her boyfriend & of course,
missing in the description you share with them
like you ever intend to find her.

She was last seen on a dvd menu
repeating itself impatiently for hours
before the film could begin; was wearing a flannel shirt
loose at the wrists and not rolled in the rush.
Your toothbrush is still damp but no DNA
has been taken.  A candle had tipped, wax
coagulating fronds of a silk reed arrangement
in the corner, curling a few edges black.

She keeps strawberry bidis in a box of Blacks;
answers to No One and has a tattoo
on the inside of her elbow—a star
with bullet points at each of its tips.

 

Bobbi, 2015, mixed media

In Bobbi, the external agent that determines the direction of her growth is religion. Her performance of the good girl is seen in her choice of androgynous attire—the bowtie and pinstriped pants. These reveal what her feet are doing, trying to escape, yet the stained glass is embedded in such a way, one has to wonder if she ever will.

 

Mae, 2015, mixed media

Mae’s external agents include both religion and the elders. Her choice is not to escape but to participate in the expectations of others, namely the grandmothers. This is why she is reluctantly holding the dress yet looking away from their approving eyes.

How to Hide

I.
They are placeholders whose thighs
never seem to tire, lips glossed like
lollipops, pinks and reds parade
purchased hair men taste as they
watch their wives snoring.

These are shiny and less complicated
than the ones they chose. May be why
these men’s hands are unsure how
to hold them and instead grab, in the dark,
for themselves.

II.
What took you so long a grandmother asks a girl.
She is barefaced in penance; slinks her body close
enough to inhale roses, thumb cool suede of aged skin.
She knows there is a breach. Or a sacrifice
in the predictable storyline girl children follow.
But the dress is pretty, all cloud and lace.

III.
Some girls disembowel their permission
in private mansions to be publicly lauded
like celluloid jars of genitalia. Place the blame
on the body and repackage themselves
for grandmothers and husbands in sheets 
they touch with blood from the inside of 
bitten cheeks and pricked fingertips
to coax the rest of their years. Some sleep 
with other men in the day.

June, 2015, mixed media

June is an example of the 50s pop culture icon June Cleaver, a television housewife and mother. This good girl has completely domesticated herself to fit into the role. That she’s headless suggests the choice was not her own. That she’s completing chores in the costume of heels and jewelry suggests she is performing a self that is not really who she is.

Woman at the Well, 2016, mixed media

In the Biblical story, when the Samaritan woman met Jesus at the well, she was a woman who had forged a path of her own choosing; she had married many times and was a mistress. Her halo and wings come from her willingness to admit that; to be her full and sexually realized self which is not an opportunity often given the good girl of color. History has often turned sexual realization into sexual deviance for black women.

Myrtaceae, 2017, mixed media

Myrtaceae is the plant that releases its scent only when crushed. The subject is at once liberated, like the sweetness of the plant, as revealed by her nudity and the released chains in her head. She sits at the foot of the cross, a symbol of religion and in Biblical tradition where one releases their troubles.

Haddasah

In her lips a shadowed smile vigilant over its luster.
If she held sway over the boys they never told
what their nights would not. Hands full with girls
that would turn them both to sensible soon enough.

Once a girl who never wanted to be patient,
thought she could pass go straight to sensible.
Carried grit, goals, and teeth against her chest
cacao beat other girls bartered when sensible

looked more appealing. Her hands were too full
to caress egos; fast footing to a water stop
unmanned by the time she made it. She made It..
Money. Decisions. She made one dish meals. She

made lists. She made wine disappear in real crystal
glasses. She made top this and first that and made
believe and water of every plan in dark rooms; artisan
she was, She made them believe She was lean.

Shoulders straight, eyes direct never accusing, and
in her lips a shadowed smile vigilant over its luster.
Grit, goals, teeth scattered on the floor of her flat like
scrabble letters refusing vocabulary to the naked eye.

Picture of a Girl Trying, 28, 2015, mixed media

While previous subjects’ heads have been full of various influences, this subject’s silhouette is hollowed, yet her halo is beaded implying a different choice that good girls of color can make and that is to embrace agency.

Picture of a Girl Trying, 16, 2017, mixed media

The girl’s halo and wings betray the insolent gaze. Often good girls of color wear brashness, insolence, or boldness as a mask of historical stereotypes that allow them to fit in but keep them from being their full selves. The numbers represent how black girls are too often forced into this monolith of what it supposedly means to be a black girl.

Picture of A Girl Trying, 10, 2017, mixed media

The girl’s gaze challenges the viewer. For girls of color the external gaze fails to perceive them beyond historical and social constructs.

Breathing Lessons

This is your liver on Heinekin
and when the Boy’s buying: Guinness.

The body can turn itself Legend without
permission, requisition, or even permanence
which you learn in second grade after Greg’s
accident left his hands unable to work
the arithmetic; his loping gait plastered
by seatbelts for every part, even his ankles.

This is the summer of your sadness
and the salvation of fire; ash renewing Earth
that had once been claimed by a home
full of family; and saying hello to the newest
developments on her planet, a brown body
orbiting dangerously close to your prudence.

This is the girl in those woods
with whom you practice a tongue
that never tires; is the way it is hard
to think and speak in a language
that is not your own.

This is the first fist, then the seventeenth.
And these? Teeth noisy and wet in her pocket.
She told you it takes a real person—bone, flesh,
protein to make these markings the color of the
hieroglyphs on Egyptian tombs; traces them until
your skin announces recognition in tiny bumps;

until they are reasonable, palatable, manage
definitions that even when held tightly
like paper in sweaty palms melting to flakes,
the route they plan a mystery, the distance
is covered by rote idiocy.

An idiot who persists will rarely find Wisdom
but always his Way.

This is you loving her. This is the language
you never quite understood and this is how
you conjugate the verb to fit your longing.

The Lazarus Effect, 2015, mixed media

The mask, which might be read as how the good girl of color performs her Self is both rooted and grounded. The natural matter underscores her organic evolution but most importantly that she can take root and continue to grow suggest her potential to choose for herself how she will navigate her life.

Biography

darlene anita scott’s art explores the corporeal performance of trauma and the violence of silence.  In this multimedia work, she explores the journey of good girls of color and how they navigate a role rarely assigned to them. Visual work from this collection has appeared in journals including Star 82 Review and Hot Metal Bridge. Recent poetry has appeared in J Journal; New Writing on Justice and S/Word. scott lives and teaches in Richmond, Virginia.

To view more of darlene anita scott's work, check out her website:

darleneanitascott.com

Acknowledgements

"Bobbi" appeared in Hot Metal Bridge Issue 20 (2016)
"Mae" appeared in Star 82 Review Issue 4.4 (December 2016)
"Mae," "June" and "Picture of a Girl Trying, 16" appeared in The Journal: A Literary Magazine Issue 41.4 (Fall 2017)

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