It started as a simple idea- a man of the people, dead centre in the middle of the canvas with people surrounding him, flailing in adulation, worship, and praise. But the blank canvas can be the most challenging thing. The idea must not be so obvious. Simplicity is a departure from where we step closer to study the details of things. The foundations have to be properly set, and then it will be a flow to get to finishing the work.
It was first about a leader, elected by the people and his growth into a larger than life being. Then events happened. An African leader died, and this became the conversation in an African diaspora group I belong to. Someone asked whether the man was much beloved by his people or was he a pariah, stating that that was what really mattered beyond the views of outsiders. That got me thinking. About the history and birthing of nations. About the aspirations of a much loved leader, a man of the people whose driving goal was to protect the commonwealth of his nation, to manage the resources available for his people above all considerations, to protect the territorial integrity of his country’s borders- the issues of nationhood, patriotism, citizenship; and migration, immigration, and relationships with the neighboring countries and the rest of the world. All things factored in, one starts understanding the daunting task ahead of such a leader who must do a balancing act so as to be painted in good light in posterity. A tilt to one side of this complexity has led to genocides, and other forms of inhumanity. ‘Uneasy is the head that wears a crown’(Henry VI, Shakespeare)
I think of all those leaders in Africa and the world over who had the dreams of their people at heart. No matter what you do, not everyone will love you. Look at the lives of religious leaders, people in places of authority, and simple everyday people like you and I. That brings me back to the problem of the blank canvas. It’s really not that simple, is it? As the work is finished, it finds a place in the history. In a sense, the work lives beyond me.
Un Homme du Peuple (from the series Citizens of Nowhere), 47X47inches, acrylic on canvas, 03/15/2021.