A few days ago, it came to my mind that this doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving holiday for me. And then I immediately asked myself, “What do I think Thanksgiving should feel like?” The things that come to mind for me are family, big dinners, good food, happy celebrations of gratitude for what has come to pass this year. But in fact, I have missed celebrating Thanksgiving in that way for many years. I can’t remember the last time I was with my family. I have mostly been outside of the U.S. during the holidays, often working on that day in some part of Kenya.
Gratitude brings to mind my father whose 98th birthday would have been this past Wednesday. I am grateful for my mom, gone two years now, who continues to inspire my artmaking. I am grateful for my siblings and their families, in all our differences. Family is the root of my gratitude.
I do know that I am very thankful today for so many things. One of them is the opportunity to exhibit my artwork right here at Maryknoll, New York. I am living here at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, a large compound with over 200 sisters in residence, an aged and vulnerable population in this time of COVID. We have been quite restricted in our movement both out of the building and within the different community living areas in the building, to protect our well-being, rightly so. Fragility and grief, deep hope and faith co-mingle in the ambience.
An invitation, an opportunity to create an exhibit for the sisters living here was a gift for me. With the help and support of my good friend and sisters in the house, I mounted a show of 18 charcoal portraits and four oil paintings. Some of the portraits were of sisters here at Maryknoll. The exhibit , “Portraits and Visions” is staged in our library, once a well-used college library, a space needing to be used in new and creative ways. The exhibit added to our merriment of the Thanksgiving holiday and also created a space of reflection and transcendence for the sisters.
I am mindful of the power of art to lift humanity above the struggle, to raise the spirit in resilience. I believe it does so because it comes from the spirit, it is gift, not mine to keep, but to be shared with others. A good friend once told me, “You need to exhibit your art and receive feedback. That is the way your art finds voice.”
This Thanksgiving, I am home at Maryknoll. I am thankful that my art has found voice here. The exhibit is my gift to the sisters and the sisters’ gift to me.