by The People’s Minister of Information JR
A lot of people celebrate Halloween, which is a commercial holiday, while few know of the cultural holiday Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known as Day of the Dead. Indigenous people from Africa, the Americas, the islands and Asia all culturally share the same practice of commemorating our ancestors.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, 6-9 p.m., SOMArts, at 934 Brannan St. in San Francisco, will be featuring the work of artists Karen Seneferu, Sydney Cain and Tosha Stimage during the closing celebration of the 16th Annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition. The theme of the exhibition is “Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow” and it was curated by father and son team Rene and Rio Yanez.
I caught up with visual artist Tosha Stimage, who has a piece in the show dealing with recent police murder victim Sandra Bland. I talked to her about her piece and what Day of the Dead means to her. Check her out in her own words.
M.O.I. JR: What does Day of the Dead mean to you?
Tosha Stimage: Dia de los Muertos is a cultural celebration that had no significance for me until this year. I had to do a little research to educate myself past the holiday’s “assumed” meaning we come to as outsiders – Halloween, skulls and paper flowers. I learned that in creating these altars, I was creating a space for one loved, one lost.
If you put yourself in the space of creating, you are also in a lot of ways processing feelings of sadness or grief that might otherwise be inarticulable. Personally I feel the title doesn’t fully do justice to the meaning of the holiday. Dia de los Muertos is a space for remembering to celebrate life.
M.O.I. JR: When did you determine that you wanted to be a visual artist?
Tosha Stimage: I never determined to be an artist. I was born with it in my bones. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t creating art.
M.O.I. JR: What made you want to do a Sandra Bland piece? What about her did you connect with?
Tosha Stimage: I am currently pursuing my master of fine arts degree at California College of the Arts. A lot of the work I am making is around the concept of color, specifically orange. I was having a discussion with the show’s curator, Rene Yanez, about the possibility of creating a space that honored the life of Sandra Bland.
I am always wary of “hot topics” – the sort of events that get hashtagged on every social media outlet until it is no longer interesting. Sadly the lives of people of color in this country have been reduced to a “hashtag.”
I don’t knowingly want what I create or do to capitalize on a lost human life. But one thing that struck me was that in the last photo taken of Bland, she was wearing the color orange. The garment was an orange jumpsuit; her last representation was one of “criminality.”
As an artist I have the power to alter a viewer’s visual perception. There was an opportunity to show Bland in a dignified manner. She is a person – not a Black criminal – a human, someone like you or me. I then decided that I would participate in the show.
M.O.I. JR: What is the meaning of the piece?
Tosha Stimage: The piece means whatever you feel it means. There are symbols that definitely have specific associations for me. The ideas of “nation,” “law,” “remnant,” “gender” and “color” are all present. I don’t want to take away from the way each viewer will “make it mean” for them. I think it’s all there.
M.O.I. JR: How do you feel about the recent case of police terrorism where the young Black girl was body slammed and tossed around the room in South Carolina?
Tosha Stimage: I am disgusted, sick to my stomach. It is gross misconduct, savage behavior. It is abuse of power, plain as day. Any justification or explanation of that type of behavior is equally disgusting.
The commentary surrounding the incident is yet another way of GENERALIZING colored people, their families and homes as unstable negative environments to the public. Humans are humans; they all fall down.
A child misbehaving in a school setting doesn’t always mean the home environment is unstable or that there’s a lack of parenting. By the same token, a “well behaved” student is not always an indicator of a stable home and good parenting.
I remember several occasions in which I was disruptive in my younger years. There could be multiple factors influencing behavior: being a child, hormones, biological transitioning to adolescence and adulthood, adapting to social environments, trying to fit in.
If using a phone or chewing gum leads to this type of justified and condoned violent behavior and abuse of authority, what type of society are we in? Thank God those students recording had their cellphones or we wouldn’t have this one of probably many incidents documented. Things are and have been falling apart for a while.
M.O.I. JR: What role does the artist play in this society?
Tosha Stimage: Artists are the gatekeepers. We create “reality.” We control perception in ways people are not consciously aware of. I have a responsibility to create things that will – to the best of my present knowledge – do more good than harm, heal, inspire and uplift other humans.
M.O.I. JR: How could people keep up with you?
Tosha Stimage: By email at email@example.com or on Instagram: @threeknees. My website is under construction.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.