The street leading up to Carissa’s house is completely blanketed with the thick, sweet smell of honeysuckle. Oakland is always sunny and warm, unlike my foggy grey neighborhood that sits on a hill that the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge peak above. My first day (and every subsequent day after) at Carissa’s house was no different. It’s a hot day out, and as I’m given the grand tour of the house, she tells me that her and the small number of staff she has all eat lunch together everyday, and sit in the garden outside when it’s nice enough. In front of her house, she has a two-story studio that has been under construction for the past several years. But, the week that I started also happens to be the week that the studio is finally ready and functioning. It’s been a moment four years in the making, and it’s an all-hands-on-deck affair as Carissa’s creative hub gets moved from one building to the other. She features the move on Instagram Live, as she has enough of a social media following to have fans that tune in and are invested in her work every step of the way.
On her website, Carissa chooses to describe People I’ve Loved as a “few human beings in search of the miraculous yet tragic definition of what it means to exist, in this time and space.” When asked by Bay Area Made‘s Ferron Salniker to expand on the search she was describing, she said, “it’s not a new hunt, humans crave making things with meaning, in a way in which we’ll never have the answers. I hate the word journey, it’s overused these days, but the work is about trying to figure out what the real is.”
Soon Carissa and I sit down in her quiet kitchen to discuss exactly what it is I want to achieve from my co-op with her. I tell her that I want to expand my list of stores to reach out to to carry my work (stockists), a much larger social media following, and that I want to have between 5 to 10 pins and patches, as well as new prints, sold in at least 10 stores in the Bay Area by the end of the summer. I’m slapped with reality when she tells me that’s a goal that’s more fit for several years in the making, not so much several months.
So far, I’ve heard back from about five stores that would be interested in carrying my current work. But I have no pins or patches designed, much less actually produced, packaged and ready to sell in storefronts. Carissa gave me the challenge to have about 5 solid designs for pins and patches, and to post on Instagram everyday. Getting to where I want to be is hard work– something Carissa knows well and is finally being recognized for. It may take me several years to get myself to where I pictured myself being at the start of this fall, but I’d much rather have the experience and time under my belt, and be able to look back at what I built aware of how hard I worked for it.
Another thing on my mind is the differing art style I’m going to have to create to work on my graphic novel. I have a voice recording and several (only slightly willing) female relatives to ask questions about their time growing up in Jamaica. One thing that I’m interested in tracking is the way that religion and also abuse and trauma were passed down (by who, when and why). The main reason for my family having to leave Jamaica is because of the sexual assault that my grandmother suffered, one that derailed her life, took away everything she knew, and left her to fend for herself in a time when it was hard for women to do so.
Although it wasn’t originally my focus, I realize now that in order to fully encompass my identity and past leading up to where I’m at in my life now, I’m going to have to interview my Jewish relatives as well. My father was an only child, and separated himself from his family as an adult. He was also guilty of continuing the pattern of abuse against women in my family growing up, and part of his story is also part of mine. That means going back far, and reaching out to recently reconnected long-lost relatives, and asking them about the history of the women on my father’s side as well. Artist residency programs offer a unique setting to be able to brainstorm and sit with all these ideas, and I feel that being an artist-in-residence would give me the push I needed to start on my senior project of a graphic novel.
Another influence on my co-op right now is the Caribbean medicine course I’m taking after work on Thursdays in Oakland. It’s called Malagueta + Moringa, and led by Myrna Lezcano. In the first class we shared stories, smelled/ate/drank herbs and herbal mixtures, and talked about the history of the Caribbean. One of the more poignant moments for me was when we went over what plants were native or non-native to the Caribbean. Foods that define the culture as we know it today, such as mango, coconut and pineapple, are all non-native. She went over the history of how and who brought such plants over, and it’s crazy to think how much colonialism has a global affect on our opinion of culture, and the authentic nature of it, when it’s all quite muddled and mixed together.
Studying under Carissa again, I hope to gain more knowledge about artwork, and also about myself and others. All these different influences will lead my work in a different direction for the better.