Are we Sinking or Rising? / by Krista Dedrick Lai

Sometimes, as an artist working on a piece, your feelings and intentions about the piece can shift over time. I began this mixed-media piece before the election. 

"Sinking or Rising," by Krista Dedrick Lai, 2016, 12" X 16" Mixed Media on Panel

Originally I conceived the idea for a sketch after a lot of contemplation and conversation about the many shootings of black men this past summer by police officers. I had been reading and listening to social and racial justice movers and thinkers, watching the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement and looking into groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice. I remain moved and impressed by the tenacity and perseverance of the many People of Color, and their allies, who have taken up the fight for racial justice over the years. The backlash to the outcry against Police Brutality I witnessed in the news and social media this past summer and fall felt heavy and defeating to me as someone who has awakened to injustice fairly late in life. 

"Hands Up", by Krista Dedrick Lai, 2016, pen and paper

As the exhausting election cycle gained in fervor and intensity this fall I decided to turn the sketch into a mixed media piece. As I began to work on the piece I felt like I was being accosted daily by the media coverage of the overt racism, sexism and xenophobia of the alt-right movement and the Trump campaign. I was in a space of really contemplating what my role should be in the fight for racial justice. As a white person I can sometimes get into a bit of decision paralysis with exactly what is best for me to do. Perhaps much of this is my privilege getting in the way. But I also often doubt myself about what will actually be helpful and useful vs. well-intentioned but meaningless. As time has gone on I have come to believe that silence in the face of injustice is complicity. I have come to believe that I must start where I am, move forward with humility, do my best, and be very attentive to the voices of People of Color, the LGBTQ community, other women and immigrants. If what I am doing is unhelpful then I need to accept feedback and switch gears.

Detail of "Sinking or Rising" by Krista Dedrick Lai, 2016

Detail of "Sinking or Rising" by Krista Dedrick Lai, 2016

When the election results came in, and many of our worst fears were realized, I grieved for days with so many others. Then I continued working on this yet uncompleted piece. As I worked I wondered... Is this the end of democracy? Is this the end of so much progress? What if I had done more? What if I don't do enough now? Will this dark time be the force that galvanizes Americans and unites disparate groups together in the fight against hate and injustice? I marveled at the measured, mature and resolved responses of many of my friends and acquaintances in marginalized groups at the same time that I felt like I was having an existential, emotional and political grief tantrum. This was nothing new to them.

I have come to believe that silence in the face of injustice is complicity.

 Over the course of the week I came to see that even my shock, rage and disillusionment were a feature of my privilege and could be seen as offensive. Like so many of my fellow white folks I am going through some intensive growing pains in regards to waking up to the reality of our world and the work that needs to be done. This piece stopped being only about race and police brutality. I added some lighter skin tones and some days the hands seemed like they were sinking. Other days they appeared to be rising. What do you think? Are we sinking or are we rising?

Detail of "Sinking or Rising" by Krista Dedrick Lai, 2016

Detail of "Sinking or Rising" by Krista Dedrick Lai, 2016