On Thursday I took my little brother to the Brooklyn Museum, it was raining when we got off the subway, the gargoyles, soldered in fragments on the walls of the Eastern Parkway subway stop caught raindrops in their gaping mouths, we dashed into the shelter offered by the tall white greco-romanesque columns of the museum edifice. When we walked into the museum, there was an event taking place, a Thursday night “in conversation”, the speaker was a director of non-profit that empowers young African American women and helps them build self confidence. She stood on a pedestal over her crowd and said with a powerful voice:
“white people don’t know the statistics of AIDS, white people don’t care about the lives of black women, white people don’t appreciate black beauty”.
I blushed and ducked out of the room. I was so offended by her broad generalization and the idea lingered in my mind; what is my conception of beauty and is it determined by the color of my skin? And furthermore what was her connection between caring about lives and caring about beauty?
The next exhibit was an exploration of Latino Americans who have changed and shaped the world. Large format prints of Marta Moreno Vega, Eva Longoria, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, are lined on the walls of a big square room. In a way, this exhibit continued the conversation on cultural conceptions of beauty. The uniquely Latino flavor of the portraits, for example Sandra Cisneros, a Mexican-American writer, wearing a turquoise cuff with a tattoo on her arm of the Virgin Mary as a sitting Buddha.
The exhibit we came to see was in fact a special exhibit on Youth and Beauty in the American Twenties – the theme of the night continued. The art of that time depicted the conflict’s of a modernizing America.
What is beauty? Is it important?
Now let me connect this back to our blogging theme, nature. The fifth floor of the Brooklyn Museum is a collection of some of the most amazing American art I have ever seen. The landscapes are breathtaking, and then disturbing, because of the devastation that we all know followed. And this brings me back to the theme of Thursday night, beauty. We form our attitudes about beauty by seeing and also by creating. Imitating that which we see and say is beautiful, painting a picture of a landscape or a beautiful woman, not only reflects how we perceive things but also shapes which notion of beautiful is preserved. So when we talk abut preservation and conservation of land, part of accomplishing that is seeing nature as beautiful, and telling the world that nature is beautiful.
Before we left the museum, I stopped in the ladies restroom to fix my hair, I looked at the faces of the other women in the mirror, next to my own, in contrast to my own. Yes, I think they are beautiful. I think they think I’m beautiful too. And yes, powerful African American non-profit director, I do know the statistics on AIDs.