Resilient Light

Back in the days when I used to work at the office, I walked up and down to flights of stairs multiple times a day. The kitchen, the toilets and the mailroom were downstairs. My desk and the printer were upstairs. I suppose all of those things are still where they’ve always been, but what can you be sure of these days…?

The distance from my bed to my workspace has been reduced to six footsteps. The toilet is somewhere in between the two.

When I realized how small my world had become I decided to take small walks through my neighborhood during my lunch breaks.

In March, the blossom from the nearby cherry trees drifted sweetly through my empty street. The trees themselves were locked behind the closed gates of Leiden’s museum of ethnology. It was like the scene from a dystopian Japanese animation film.

When the museum started allowing people back onto its terrain, I immediately knew where my next walk would lead me. I sniffed the spring air and stared at the cotton candy trees for a while, fully realizing it would be gone in a few days.

I continued my walk around the museum building, towards the back exit that would lead me back to my home, my desk and my ringing telephone.

And that is when I stumbled upon the museum’s stunning mural. It is hard to believe I hadn’t seen it before, but there was no denying it now. It was like an explosion of light, color and static motion. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

There was so much going on in that painting, I did not know what to make of it but I was certain it meant something and I wanted to know more.

The wallpainting was signed: Yatika Fields.

Luckily, Yatika Starr Fields was quite easy to find, so I decided to contact him. I received an elaborate mail shortly after, in which he answered all my questions and more.

He let me know he had made the piece in September 2019 and named it “Resilient Light: accommodating strength, our land, our hearts”. 

foto: Peter Hilz

Being a Native American artist, he incorporated a lot of elements in the mural from his culture, such as sage and cedar, to symbolize a moment of inner reflection, of purification and of healing. This applied to the physical space the art piece was made in as well as the place in time.

By adding these elements in the mural I am creating a space where this is a metaphor to the healing past, but also to bless the mural and the space in occupies.

Coincidentally, the museum building has been a place of healing ever since it was built in 1873. At first this was the case in the most literal sense, as it was designed to be a hospital. It served for this purpose for half a century, but being an academic hospital they soon desired more lab space, as well as more comfort for the patients.

The Museum of Ethnology moved in in 1935, just a few years before the beginning of the Second World War. I can imagine any study of cultures or ethnology would have required quite some sensitivity during that epoch.

It would be interesting to see what the exhibitions looked like in the museum in the period before, during and after the occupation.

This year, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the end of second world war for the Netherlands and we are only now starting to reflect honestly and truthfully about where we went wrong, what we could have done differently and who deserves an apology (and then some).

All though 75 years may sound like a long time to come to terms with major historical events, Yatika Fields’ mural demonstrates that scars from the past can stay open for centuries.

The piece he painted was in fact “in commemoration of 400 years of colonial presence in America”, as he put it in his e-mail response. The museum will shine its light on this occasion in its own way, as well as many other institutions across the globe, as part of the Mayflower 400 celebration.

As a Dutch citizen I could say Native American history and modern day US policies have nothing to do with me, but if the past few months have taught me anything it is that everything and everyone is connected.

Decisions and choices made by one individual have consequences that ripple out in every direction and continue to be felt 400 years later.

Yatika Fields even expresses this in his piece, as he explained to me:

The light in the mural is a metaphor to strength. It’s leaving the hand of one figure and in a manner of projection is being caught and illuminated by the others.

This is significant in the distribution of resources, tribal identity, cultural knowledge to keep us sustained spiritually to persevere in all the difficulties we face as a people in the county we are from, from the colonizers.

We still face these issues today, in the light of COVID19. Native communities and communities of color are being targeted with lack of federal and government aid.

The shells and nautical reference relate to early trade in the Americas and thus reasons of expansions. The ocean and water between were a catalyst to change, just as the tides change with time.

In a way, the shells and nautical references in mr Fields’ piece are part of my story too.

I am the child of a development worker, the grand daughter of a naval officer for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and the great grand daughter of a preacher who sailed to the Dutch colonies, with the bible in hand.

It’s not up to me to apologize for the choices of my forefathers. It’s not up to me to defend them either.

All I can do is shine a light on my own actions.

I hope to be able to keep my sense of wonder and take in what the world has to tell me; be it through the blossom of a Japanese cherry tree, the symbolism of a mural or the conversation with a fellow human being.

Bring in the cedar and sage. Let’s talk. Let’s heal.

UPDATE: See how the mural was created on Yatika Fields’ own website.

Heal the world

Imagine walking through the desert. It’s hot. You’re thirsty. You see something glistening in the sand… Is it water? A mirror? Is it your imagination playing tricks on you? No, it is actually your lucky day and you’ve just stumbled upon of those super rare genie bearing lamps! What were you doing out here in the desert anyhow and why are these things always found in the middle of nowhere? Nevermind… Quick quick, rub it and see how many wishes you’ve been granted….

POOF! A genie! But not just any genie… This one went to University! That’s Dr. Genie for you! And you get ONE wish. A very specific one too, it’s all in the small lettering at the bottom of the page, I assure you… The bill will be sent to you in a couple of weeks. Now please sign here…

The instructions: You may name any disease or ailment, physical or psychological and the world will be rid of it.

Such a precious wish. But it’s just the one, so you must choose wisely!

There are so many diseases cutting valuable lives short. So many wonderful people being taken from their loved ones. Sure, some of them are probably ass holes but they still didn’t deserve to die like that, right? According to this list the top ten deadliest diseases are:

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Still, I would not name any of these diseases to be annihilated because I am one of those horrible beings that believes people need to die at some point. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy losing people, I cry at funerals and hope those I love live as long and prosperly as possible. My dad has (had) at least three of the ailments from that top ten list and I’m glad they didn’t kill him (yet).

Making these diseases disappear will decrease mortality rates and only increase the world’s population. Sure, It will prevent some individual’s personal losses and hypothetical traumas. They will not thank me though. They will not value the no-longer-dying person more, nor will they make the most of the time they have just won. They probably never even knew their time was running short. And even if they did, you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone anyway. They might never value life like they would have if they’d had lost their mother, brother, father or child to that mortal disease.

Now that all of you think I am a horrible person I could go on and say that I wish to rid the world of hatred, or I could go full blown hypocrite and say that I will eradicate cynicism but I’m not here to troll.

The ailment that I wish to wipe out is depression. I’m sure some will say this doesn’t qualify as a disease, but I disagree. Seeing people I love suffer from depression is the worst thing. I have never been depressed myself and am quite certain I never will be touched by this dark demon but I do see its shadows in my environment every now and then. It’s horrible horrible horrible.

It’s a disease that doesn’t kill you, but makes being alive feel pointless. All the beauty of the world is lost to those suffering from it. No “I love you” ever enters their heart, no matter how often you say it. They still feel worthless and alone, no matter how tight you hug them. I hate that bloody disease and would ask the genie if I could give that wretched black mut of a dog one last kick in the balls before he blasts it off the planet.