About Sharon Wilson
To live in a country where black people represented nearly 60% of the population, but were absent from television, film, magazines, greeting cards etc. was profoundly damaging to my psyche. It damaged my ability to celebrate and value myself, leaving me feeling invisible. This was Bermuda in the 1950’s. Today, invisibility has been replaced by negative stereotyping through the media.
Having been fed a steady diet of a Eurocentric standard of family life and beauty, I had quite a distance to go before I could see beauty in black family life, black skin, hair, and identity. In the early years, I modeled my paintings on a European standard, substituting white faces for black. My audience could not have understood my ongoing struggle to define who I was. They were simply starving for imagery that acknowledged them.
In the late 1980’s, I brought to the Bermuda public their first view of family life from a black perspective in the form of affordable art prints and note cards and in so doing, found a special place in the hearts of the Bermudian people.
At this time I was also teaching black children in public schools. It pained me, but did not surprise me, to find that these children chose not to paint themselves as they were. When offered a choice of flesh tones, black children in the 90’s and well into this century, will still choose colors not representative of their skin tones, although I have begun to see some shift. Their preference is still for a whiter look for skin and hair. The depth of self-hatred is seldom confronted. The pain of self-hate and the denial of both the hate, and the suppression of the pain, creates a desire to distance one from one’s self.
I have a new mantra: “Imagery influences thinking.” I no longer assume that this is obvious. I help the viewer to connect the dots. The concept of using art to match carpets and window dressings is to cheat one’s self of the opportunity to nourish the soul. Using beautiful paintings to inspire us; becoming conscious of the messages contained in the art, and demanding greater depth from the artists who paint for us ensures that our living spaces reflect who we are. Today I work with a greater consciousness. I recognize that vision always precedes the manifestation of change. I am painting the healing of families. Households headed by single women is 4.5 times higher among black families than among white counterparts. In my images of family life, I am intentionally reintegrating the absent fathers. I am interviewing men, to hear their view on family. Changing the pathology of family patterns which has resulted in fatherless children and husbandless women requires a new vision. We have to be able to envision the change we want. Television, and the film industry are not on board. I am attempting to paint them as they want to be. We must be able to envision (see) them there, interacting with their children and with their women in healthy and respectful ways.
I have entered the motivational speaking circuit. Here I engage with audiences and offer them alternative ways to view and select art, in order to reinforce core beliefs. It also affords me the opportunity to offer a context in which to view my work. I speak about the role art can have in holding our dreams foremost in our minds, keeping before us those things we choose to realize in our lives. I am intentionally using art to transform our view; make concrete our thoughts and secure a foundation for meaningful change. This is practical. This takes art out of the elitist realm, out of the world of decoration and places it as an essential ingredient in all our lives.