Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Burnt Orange Giraffes

Every picture I created as a child was burnt orange in color. The only one my mother kept was the burnt orange giraffe. She drags it out every holiday, on its old hardened kindergarten paper, as a testament to my unruliness. She tells the story of how I never colored in the lines and ate paste, which tasted like peppermint by the way. And then she turns to her strongest piece of evidence, the burnt orange giraffe. My mother pronounces it ‘non-art’ which translates for me as ‘non-person’, and says “it wouldn’t have been this color if she hadn’t tried to use all the paints at the same time and mixed them all together.” What is truly striking about the repeated assault on my five year old visual artistic abilities is that its designation as ‘non-art’ has nothing to do with the fact that the figure looks nothing like a giraffe, which it certainly does not, but because of its COLOR. As I finish my dissertation, I have come to appreciate this story as a great metaphor for my journey towards a mixed race identity.
If you are an ordered individual you may not know about the phenomenon that occurs when compulsive kindergartners feverishly apply every single color in the finger paint tray to their artwork. The politically correct term is burnt orange; my mother called it baby poop brown. The deeper conversation is that it was not the RIGHT color. This speaks to the inflexibility in the aesthetic expectation and order of color. As a mixed race person, I am the baby poop brown giraffe. Non-conforming, unidentifiable, uncategorical, I am a burnt orange giraffe.
This metaphor was one that helped me create the framework through which I define my own racial identity or at least that space that allows identities like mine, non-binary and fluid, to take shape. As my research continued, the more paint colors were applied to the socio-racial canvas. Like my art, socio-racial identity started to become very messy and disordered and very opposite the clean orderly structure that race seemed to be before I started. I have no objection to the direction this artwork has taken. I am only concerned that I will be left with something unrecognizable like my giraffe. I am concerned that the narratives of people of mixed race will like my artwork be misinterpreted as unintentional, and compulsively created.
What I can tell you is that I painted those pictures on purpose. It wasn’t impulse; I simply wanted to use all the colors because I thought the use of all the colors produced an exceptional result. When I used every single color, it didn’t produce a rainbow like I had been lead to believe, it produced an exceptional color. The color produced ended up being the exact same color as me.

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