By Tia Richardson
The path of transformation lies before us, and begins within. Milwaukee Gaia Buddha is a mural I recently completed for the Black Cat Alley mural project on Milwaukee’s east-side. It depicts a female earth goddess in the yoga Tree pose growing as a sunflower with many sunflowers growing around her to form a community. She represents the inner path of transformation that causes our outer relationships with each other to transform. She stands at the center of a spiraling path appearing to emerge from the ground in front of the viewer. On her body are images depicting multicultural appreciation, creative expression, and the symbols for ‘Om’ and ‘Peace’.
She is born from the seed planted that inspires all of our hearts to work cooperatively and to awaken to an understanding of and appreciation for the beauty we bring to the world in our differences. She embodies a collective living spirit of the city of Milwaukee – where I’m from – inclusive of all. Most of all she embodies using creativity, beauty and unconditional love to inspire this path towards healing from suffering.
As I was painting this, it was just weeks after violence erupting in Sherman Park made national headlines. I recognize racial tension in Milwaukee. I’m aware that painting alone does not solve any problem.
While working on the mural I struggled with how to, and whether or not, to include any reference to that incident. I knew the incident was not anything new for many. But it does speak of the times we are in, a time in which I feel called to action; a time in which others feel at best called out of love and at worst spurned out of fear – to action. I choose to spread seeds.
Milwaukee Gaia Buddha tells a story of strengthening one’s relationship to self via a personal spiritual path; and holding community represented by her body. She embraces all of us as brothers and sisters, reminding us of this truth. She is ever-present and unyielding in her compassion; beckoning us to open our hearts to each other and to the creative support and resources for healing already available to us – and that continue to emerge.
This energy of motivation and compassion shows itself as a web of light radiating outwards from the goddess towards the skyline. I hope it catches on and touches some hearts, especially now as people are inspired to act after the election.
The Mayan greeting ‘In La’kech’ – “You are my other me, I am your other you” – written down her raised leg speaks of this wisdom. It is written in Spanish and Arabic. I wanted to point to the sentiment in public consciousness right now around issues of immigration and Islamophobia. Of Black Lives, I represented a little boy holding the Milwaukee Art Museum in his lap. In his lap because too often resources and channels for creative self-expression are not available to him due to lack of funding and infrastructure for community-led initiatives. Of course, he isn’t alone – all the other children of the city join him in his desire to be fully expressed as a human being.
Of Milwaukee neighborhoods – perhaps the houses on her T-Shirt are a particular neighborhood. Perhaps the little boy paints his vision in sweeping rivers of blues and purples across city sidewalks. The action of the brush links us to the stars, to each other, to our collective destiny on this planet.
Thorns around her ankles represent the oppression trying to take hold, or personal tragedy. We can all relate to one or the other at times. Is she free because the link is broken and she is able to stand balanced? Or will she never be free because the remnants hang? The question is up to each of us in our hearts. How do we stand in the world?
VIOLENCE: It’s about living the change we want to see. Pessimism feels condemning, and that is not how I live. Revenge is temporary, because our hearts know that we have betrayed our greater purpose. The act of caring, of unconditional love, is an unyielding force. It holds the long view in focus, with a wide angle lens.
This is what I feel Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embodied in his efforts for a non-violent movement. His legacy stands as one of unconditional love toward a force great enough to keep whole generations of a people down. A force still at work in many arenas of life; at work around the globe. We have to ask ourselves: Where are we being presented with opportunities to invoke this same legacy in our lives? We will always be presented with unfair situations, it comes with the territory of being human. So are we condemned to act out of our most basest of human instincts?
The force which cooperates with our desire for violence is a destructive one. Since I do not believe God contradicts himself, to align with God means to take an attitude of non-violence. Anger needs to be channeled into a constructive expression. That is the work of the divine. It works against our greater good to let it destroy. Anger is natural. The act of willing it into a constructive channel is supernatural. This is where arts and culture as creative resources and therapeutic spaces can play an increasing role.
KINDNESS: We think we’ve figured it out – or at least grown up enough as a society for the work of relating to each other as brothers and sisters to be behind us. It is not; we are still learning how to respect each other in our attitudes, the way others want to be respected.
Even if policies are changed, even if the system changes – we still are left to figure out how to better love ourselves and one another. I mean this in the light of the attitudes and biases that we hold near and dear. It is an act of personal responsibility that is left up to each one of us. Only in our hearts is the path made clear.
God is not divided in his purpose. Every act of harm is a knife in the fabric of our greater good. Violence begets violence. To quote a reference to Obama’s last speech to the United Nations – we are being called to be co-workers of God.
While painting this mural I was filmed by a crew from the new TV series ‘Wisconsin Life’ which aired around the state on Wisconsin Public Television in November. My segment can be viewed at the link below.
Mural photos: http://tinyurl.com/zcew8h2
Wisconsin Life TV: http://tinyurl.com/hj3y2gy
Obama’s UN speech: http://tinyurl.com/jg7ojku