I wanted to do this show after going through a hard, dark couple of years. I lost a lover ,and my beloved godmother within months of each other, and then covid happened. I felt so deep in the underworld, as so many of us did, I wasn’t sure if I would resurface. I’m writing this because so many people I know not only experienced covid, but impossible things on top of that. I was so amazed to experience coming back to life, and love, and joy, that it felt significant to acknowledge in my art. Previously I would have considered a show about joy trite and cringey. Now on the other side, I think we need art and music and dance that reminds us of joy, so we can endure the more difficult times.
Then the explosion happened between Hamas and Israel. I force myself to watch some of the footage of the devastation to bear witness. Social media has brought images of dying and terrified children into our homes. Women and children and the elderly have always been casualties of war, but now we see it in real time. Babies who have lost their entire family. The grief feels unbearable. I want only to be able to hold those babies and comfort them, clean them, feed them, and put them in a safe bed, all the things I have been able to take for granted when I was a child, and raising my own children.
I thought to myself “Ugh, a show about joy right now feels stupid, ridiculous, inappropriate, and just plain wrong.” I read an article by Ingrid Fetell Lee called “ Joy is an Act of Resistance: How Celebration Sustains Activism.” In it she speaks to the importance of communal joy to unify people and how a unified people are a greater force for resistance. She speaks of how oppressed groups are dehumanized by having the things that give them joy and pleasure taken away. She says “struggles for justice are often also struggles for the acknowledgement of an oppressed group’s full humanity.” She also quotes Audre Lorde who says :
” the sharing of joy, whether physical, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”
She speaks of the importance of the experience of communal joy. It made me understand the feeling I get on a dance floor. When I am dancing and there is great music going, my heart feels wide open. I love everyone there. I feel one with everyone. Dancing has always felt like a religious experience for me this way. I feel in touch with love and the great love that unites us all. I feel put in my proper place as one small pulsating cell in a large organism of pulsating cells.
As I was mourning the beloveds I lost in my life, I kept reading love is the other side of grief. I wouldn’t have had these deep feelings of grief without the deep love I experienced. On the other side of all the pieces of art about joy, is the other side, is the sorrow and the pain. They are all wrapped up together. Sorrow, pain, joy, love, sorrow, pain, joy, love….Like so many, I want to plant myself in the joy-happy-peace place. But that’s not life. Even now as I risk joy and love, I’m aware how that can be gone at any moment.
I have always thought of my art as anchors. Anchors to realities that we can lose touch with, but that are parts that sustain and nourish us. I humbly offer these pieces as small anchors to joy. If ones happens to go home with you, may it be a reminder to you of your own joyful place, and may we all use them as reminders that everyone on earth is entitled to such moments of joy and humanity, and may we continue in the work to make it so.
"Crowns and Birds"is my latest body of work.
You can see it in Santa Fe this weekend, and next, in the Santa Fe studio tour.
October 21-22 11am-5pm
October 29-29 11am-5pm
It will also be featured on my website in the near future.
Meanwhile you can see more images from the show on my art instagram @bettinartadventure
Mixed Media works on paper 11x14