Tag Archives: portraits

Mozambican Odyssey: Babies Carrying Babies (Excerpt #4)

In Mozambique, it was not unusual to see toddlers carrying babies on their backs.

Lately I’ve been going through old photos from our time in Mozambique.  The photo that this artwork is based on reminded me of an eye-opening experience I had after we first moved to Mozambique, when my daughter was only 3 or 4 years old.  We had hired a young mother to help me with the housework and with learning the language and culture.  One day she needed to bring her children to work with her, and she brought her little daughter who was the same age as ours, 3 or 4, but strapped onto the little one’s back was a baby!  That little one, very much a baby herself, I thought, was expected to bounce that baby and keep her happy while her mommy worked.  I couldn’t believe it.  I watched as she entered my house, carrying that heavy load, and I worried about the little head bobbing up and down as big sis–tiny big sis– carried her around.  The little girl walked through the kitchen, and then she caught sight of my daughter’s bedroom.

At this point I feel the need to say that my kids left so many of their toys behind in the states, and there was very little around Maputo that we could afford to buy for them, or even that they would want when we first moved there.   Hannah did not have very many toys compared to her friends back in the states.  But when that little toddler entered her room, still with the baby on her back, her eyes got huge!  It was as if she had walked into Disneyland.  She had apparently never seen so many little girl toys, baby dolls, etc., and she just wanted to play in there all day.  That she did, as I recall, occasionally stopping to comfort her in-the-flesh baby sister on her back, as she played with the dolls.

It was another of many such moments in which I realized that I was the rich white American, and my employee’s kids could not imagine living like we did, despite the fact that we felt we had given up so much to move to Mozambique.

I’ve been processing this stuff for years, and I still don’t have many answers.  Being ashamed of having more than someone else is not helpful, but I do think we need to struggle with what can be done about income inequality and find ways to be compassionate.

Micah 6 : 8 comes to mind.  “And what  does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I need to be concerned with justice, mercy, and humility.  These three are so needed, now more than ever.

Mozambican Odyssey (an Excerpt)

“All the World” by Susan E. Brooks, 20 x 30 inches, oil pastel on mat board

 

Every day is filled with incredible stress, guilt, and fear.  My husband nearly died from an unidentified illness, and I fear for the health and safety of my kids almost all day, every day.  It’s easier just to stay on the compound with the other American missionaries, but that’s not why I came.  God, help me get through this.

The women here are so strong and persevering.  They work incredibly hard everyday, many with absent husbands, caring for children in addition to working a job if they can find one.  Most prepare their food over a fire and carry water some distance from a pump.  Their lives seem like constant struggle and pain to me, and yet they sing and smile and are so beautiful in their laughter.

I am a pampered child who cannot handle much stress, apparently.  Many days I wonder what it would be like to have a nervous breakdown.  How can you tell if you’re about to lose it?  What are the signs?  I can’t talk to anyone about this because they’re all stressed too, and I’m supposed to be a hero to the people back home.  What a crock!  I’m a wreck.  The kids are the only ones who seem to be okay, most of the time.  I try to hold it together for them.  I keep my  inner turmoil  hidden.  God does help me and carry me through, but I wonder if He will keep us safe.  I wonder if all 5 of us will make it back home to Kentucky.

I know that God is good.  I see it in nature and in the beauty of children and in the Mozambican people all around me.  How can the creator of such beauty not be good?  But I also see the suffering around me.  Children are dying from cholera all around.  I saw my 20 year old brother suffer and die of cancer within a few months.  My dad died at age 63, just before retirement, as a result of a car wreck.  Life is suffering, beauty, and glory, all mixed together.  Sometimes I could hide from that back in Kentucky, but not here in Mozambique.  Extreme poverty slaps you in the face as children beg for bread every day; but at night, the stars crowding the sky seem so close you could throw a rock at one and send it crashing down to earth.   This beauty is also undeniable.

Looking back in 2019, I did survive 3 years in Mozambique, but one of my teammates did not.  He was shot and killed by armed robbers that entered our compound one night.  I did not feel free to write about how difficult it was for me back then, but now I am free of the pedestal and the expectations that were put upon me at the time.  I don’t know why I am safely back home, and my friend is not.  God allows suffering, and He is is good.  These truths I have to hold in tension, and probably always will.  I hope I can live in such a way as to celebrate the beauty and goodness, and at the same time, maybe I can alleviate a little of the suffering, or at least, stand in solidarity with those who suffer, as Jesus does.

Provocative Perspectives Exhibition

Blessing: “For the first time in my life, I have place to call home.” Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper, 16×20 in.
This painting represents the many refugees who are so grateful to have a home here in Louisville, and they want to be a blessing by helping others.

 

Originally, this portrait was created for the KRM We Create events in celebration of World Refugee Week in Louisville, KY.  KRM provided the We Create artists with videos of interviews with refugees that had come to Louisville to find a home here with us.  The young lady in the portrait above had been through so much suffering.  She grew up fleeing from violence and living in refugee camps until God made a way for her to escape the constant fear and danger, and come to the US, and finally to Louisville.  Her name means “blessing,” and when she settled here in town, she said, “For the first time in my life, I have a place to call home.” This lovely young woman has a heart to serve and help those in need, to be a “blessing” to others. This oil pastel portrait is currently on display at the 1619 Flux gallery as a part of the Provocative Perspectives Exhibition that runs until January of 2019.  For gallery hours and events, go to https://www.1619flux.org/calendar.

 

Solo Show of Oil Pastel Portraits in July, 2018

Tanzanian Chidren, 16 x 20, oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

A Celebration of Color: Oil Pastel Portraits by Susan E. Brooks will be on display at the Open Community Arts Center from July 2 – July 27, with the closing reception on July 27 from 6-9pm.  The show is comprised of 16 oil pastel portraits completed within the past two years, including the very recent works created for the “KRM We Create” events for the World Refugee week Festival in June.  Ten of the 16 artworks are available for purchase.  Come out and  see the work, and if you would like to meet me there, let me know!

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KRM We Create Art Events during the World Refugee Festival

“Not Wretched, Not Refuse, but Welcome,” was created for the KRM We Create Events in honor of World Refugee Week, The title is based on the poem that hangs on the Statue of Liberty, and the words in the trees are also taken from that poem, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.

I am excited to be a part of the World Refugee Festival in Louisville  beginning June 16 – 24!  Kentucky Refugee ministries has organized a series of art events in celebration of World Refugee Week.  The purpose of the events is to celebrate the refugees that have come to Louisville and the blessings they bring to us as a community.  The piece pictured above is fairly large, and it is one thing to view art online, but quite another to stand in front of an original  work of art.  Online you cannot experience the intensity of colors or the interplay of the various textures and strokes in a drawing or painting as you can seeing it “face to face.”  So I hope you come out tomorrow to the Better Block Festival and to the Brown Theatre next Saturday, June 23.  See you there!

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A Boy and His Donkey: the Story behind the Painting

We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks
We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

 

It was one of the most difficult trips I’ve ever taken.  We were traveling through Burkina Faso during our missionary days, and the poverty was overwhelming.  I found myself, once again, the spoiled, picky, American girl who had trouble eating what the locals would have been thrilled to have.  One time at a restaurant, flies were swarming so thickly upon our plates of chicken and french fries that the only way we could  eat was to cover our plates completely with napkins,  pulling a fry or a piece of chicken out from under it the best we could.  I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

Speaking of flies, the donkey that I painted above had flies crawling all over his eyes that were swollen shut.  They looked like two slits– they must have been infected.  I had to use my artistic skills to open his eyes and make him look healthy and happy.  The boy also was not as healthy and glowing as I painted him to be.  The truth is that I had to change the sad realities of this boy’s life in order to create a beautiful painting that people would want to see.  I’m not sure what to do with that, and I am ashamed to complain about flies on my fries when so many in that country had so  little to eat.

How do we respond to the stark contrasts and overwhelming misery that exist in our world?  How can we help?  Guilt and shame are not the answer.  The answer is probably different for each one of us.  If only painting away the infections and the hunger would make them disappear.  I don’t know how to fix our broken world, but I do see people helping, one person at a time.  Thank you, all of you who are loving, serving, and helping, one person at a time. God sees you.

 

 

 

Why I Love Oil Pastels

 

Oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks
Oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

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I discovered oil pastels while studying art in college.  I don’t know why I picked them up in the first place, and I remember being frustrated with them in the beginning.  One of my early attempts was a ballerina whose face looked like that of an ape, sending my professors into spasms of laughter.  It’s a painful memory I’ve probably never shared publicly until now.

In spite of that failure, I kept at it, and I found that if I used a textured board and kept my work large, strikingly colorful portraits began to emerge from the background.  The pastels were so intense that I had to mix the colors on the surface of the painting.  I’ve found that not having the exact skin colors of pastels forced me to used a mixture of colors that became magic for me, and I developed my own style of portraits using oil pastels.  I thought you might enjoy seeing an earlier stage of the work, along with the finished piece.

Update on My Children’s Books

Reading with Poppy
Reading with Poppy, oil pastel painting by Susan E. Brooks. Prints available at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/reading-with-poppy-susan-e-brooks.html

When God invented grandchildren, He outdid himself — forgive me, but all of you grandparents know what I mean.  I couldn’t be more crazy about mine!  They have changed my life forever, as a matter of fact, because I wanted to write books for them.  After writing books for them, I was able to get a paid writing job for a local children’s book publisher.  One good thing led to another, and I have my amazing grandchildren to thank.

Just recently, the company that will be publishing my book later this summer was featured in Insider Louisville Magazine.  Here’s a link to that article https://insiderlouisville.com/lifestyle_culture/louisville-based-baxters-corner-creates-fun-interactive-childrens-books/.  Baxter’s Corner is a great local company that is focused on creating children’s books that promote healthy values.

Meanwhile, I’m working on writing and illustrating the third book inspired by my grandchildren, which is a surprise that cannot be revealed until it’s finished.  If you’re interested in seeing the first two books, go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/susan-e-brooks/ariel-princess-of-the-forest-mischievous-cheetah/hardcover/product-21832502.html.