A few months ago I attended a Networking event held at the Delaware Art Museum which was featuring Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art and our Tour Guide was Madeline Porter.
As we walked through the exhibits listening to the history behind each piece, I couldn’t help but admire this young millennial’s passion and you know me and the millennial generation – I love it when they are positively in motion, remember this post?
Before I left the museum I asked Madeline if she would like to be featured on my blog as a “Millennial in Motion” ? She was happy and graciously accepted so today I am honored to present to you the writing and art work of
The Rising Phoenix
Who is The Rising Phoenix?
By Madeline Porter
I have drawn all of my life, starting with simple materials such as crayons, markers, pens and pencils. I still use those materials to draw today, but I have expanded my media to include acrylic paint on canvas. I attended Cab Calloway School of the Arts for middle and high school, as well as Brandywine Summer Fine Arts Camp during the summer break. During those years, I majored in Visual Arts, and minored in Communication arts. In art camp, I majored in Visual Arts as well, but my two exploratories were in the performing arts: Theater and Dance. In actuality, I would have liked to participate in all of the arts offered at Cab Calloway, but we were only allowed to choose two. I very much enjoy cinema, so much so, that I filmed two full-length cardboard and paper animated films as a child. I enjoy singing and eventually learned how to sing in a choir in my second language, Spanish. I used to take piano classes and I can currently play by ear. I have always felt that it is difficult and limiting whenever I am told that I must choose and focus on completing one activity.
I am a procrastinator, a perfectionist, and an over-active multi-tasker. Subsequently, finishing projects and prioritizing have been my biggest struggles. However, I have good mentors that encourage and push me to complete my tasks. Once I left art school and began attending college, I stopped doing art for several years. It was a sad time for me because I found college socially and academically arduous. It was quite a culture shock and difficult to adjust to, because I had lived such a sheltered, strict upbringing. College and graduate school required so much studying, energy, patience, and endurance. I did not feel prepared for all that it would require of me. I encountered many different people from different places with different values. Many of these experiences I would say were positive, such as my encounters with international students. Despite any negativity I encountered, I thankfully, pushed forward, and received my Bachelors in Spanish and my Masters in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language.)
College can be a very frightening and challenging place for a female. Witnessing and enduring sexual harassment and addressing sexual assaults that occurred on campus really disturbed me. I was briefly a resident assistant and I joined the Counseling Center’s S.A.R.A. (Sexual Assault Response Advocates) group to address some of the problematic attitudes and actions taken on campus. Originally I decided to found and lead a new multicultural organization called UNITE to ease growing tensions from our campus’ increasing diversity. Our group also focused on educating the campus on various causes such as Prevention and Awareness of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, HIV & AIDS, Cancer and Suicide. It is not something that I can be silent about because all of these issues do affect our college students. It is common for college students to have breakdowns and crumble under the pressures of school, homesickness, culture shock, peer pressure and financial strain. I wish to illustrate the struggles of college students as well as other social issues within my artwork.
My art’s focus constantly evolves and reflects the changes and climate of the current environment during my lifetime. Before September 11th, my artwork rarely reflected any political issues. At one time, the majority of the characters I drew reflected Japanese anime, comics and superheroes. Unfortunately the majority of those characters were lacking in diversity and I had a warped perception that characters of color were the “exception” not the “standard.” I was horrified by the Islamaphobia that followed the September 11th terror attacks, and I began to focus on highlighting the cruel reality of the hate crimes and social attacks that occurred towards Muslims in my artwork. I am also very passionate about amnesty in regards to immigration issues. I began learning Spanish in high school as well as attending a Pentecostal bilingual church where I made close friendships with many Puerto Rican people. In speaking with and listening to the many Latino people I have met, I became aware of some Latino struggles, and noticed how many of those struggles were similar and different to those of African Americans.
Sometimes I would be questioned as to why, as a Black woman, I rarely depicted Black issues in my art. To be honest, at the time, I endured racism in some ways that were so painful that I didn’t care to address it at all. However, life didn’t allow me the luxury of pretending that racism didn’t exist, because it happened in overt forms that I could not deny, like my family being denied service in a restaurant. I found it much easier to focus on other people’s problems and take on the role of the sympathetic super hero. When I spoke out about other’s problems, I found that sometimes people listened more, because an outside compassionate ally was more noticeable. At other times, however, I felt like an odd teenager, because I was focusing on social justice and activism, while others were focused on more superficial things. Despite my passion for others’ causes, I came to realize that there is a price paid when an individual doesn’t take the time to take care of oneself. Burn out ensues, and that is what happened to me. I felt resentful and underappreciated, because people got so used to me being the helper bee that all my energy and emotion was used up until I had no more for myself.
After doing some soul searching, prayer, and mindfulness meditation throughout my spiritual journey, I have matured and I realize that I cannot help everyone, especially if I am not well-balanced myself. I can care about many issues, but I must always take time out for my well-being as well. Sometimes people will see all the activities that I do and they will say that I am doing too much, but actually, I very much enjoy a full day of activities that promote empowerment and unity. I like to have recreational fun, too. In my spare time, I enjoy attending anime and comic conventions where people of all ages create and purchase elaborate costumes to portray characters in videogames, anime, and comic books. There are also many artists and writers present, as well as a variety of activities to participate in at these conventions. It means the world to young children, girls, and especially children of color, who are marginalized in media. I do plan to create my own novels, comic books, and television movie series with diverse representation. The world includes females, people of color, and people who belong to the LGBT community. Diverse children need to see that they can be heroes, too.
More than anything; I simply want to depict my truth. Very often, I have focused on other’s issues, while rarely depicting my own, in my art because, quite frankly, it has felt too personal. We all have insecurities and struggles, but to put one’s life on display is a very personal and brave decision to make. For this reason, I emulate Frida Khalo as my favorite artist. She was an avant-garde, extraordinary, perseverant, strong woman in society. She painted her pain, her emotions and her experience. Some of her most striking paintings are those depicting the impact of the tragic bus accident that prevented her from having children and shattered many of her bones.
There is a painting of her in an open cast called, “The Broken Column” which depicts her severe injuries. There is another painting of her laid out on a table, bleeding from the inside of her genitals called “Henry Ford Hospital” which depicts her miscarriage. There is also a photo of Frida holding the hand of another Frida. One Frida is dressed as female while the other dressed as male, called, “The Two Fridas.” She is a cultural icon and she was an unapologetic Mexican woman who did not submit to society’s traditional demands of women or follow the status quo. She is celebrated and memorialized as a cultural icon by many still today.
An amazing opportunity occurred when I was eighteen years old in my freshmen year of college. I met Enrique Morones, the leader of Border Angels, which is an immigrant advocacy organization. I shared with him my trilingual artwork called, “We Cannot See Alone/No Podemos Ver Solos & Remember September.” This piece focused on the struggles of innocent Muslims who were not participants in the September 11th and Spanish-speaking Latino Immigrants. I sent it to the entire Google group by accident and it gained the attention of a school in California that asked permission to hang my piece in their hall. It also gained the attention of Professor Sigala at the Metropolitan School of Denver Colorado. She invited me to come out and do a speech on my piece and share my poetry at their annual Lalo Delgado Festival. This festival honored Lalo Delgado, a Chicano poet, and focused on the celebration and experiences of Indigenous Native Mexican American Chicano heritage. I flew out to the West and enjoyed my trip very much. It was my first airplane flight, my first time flying out to Denver, Colorado, and my first paid speech! I hope to visit the Metropolitan School of Denver, Colorado again to speak on my work in the future.
I eventually decided as a former people pleaser that I never want to live my life based on the whims of others or limit my artwork to a “feel good” censored safe space. I paint and I draw for the purpose of education, expression, representation, catharsis, and unity. Our schools fail us when it comes to teaching an accurate American and global history. Ignorance and lies have poisoned the minds of our children, and it is the cause of so many societal problems among adults today. Thankfully, technological advancements allow free access to information, but it is also premature, graphic and, too often, unscholarly. Art does more than just entertain. Art challenges societal norms, and it educates people of all ages about a new perspective they may have never encountered before. Art also validates those who feel marginalized in their ideas, which may seem too radical to a conservative environment. I know that my own perspectives, opinions and values will change and grow over time. I am still young, and I have a lot to learn about the world. I intend to travel to as many places as I can, and learn all that I can, from both children and elders.
Having faith in oneself is important, but also, as a Christian woman, having faith that God will come through is also just as important. It’s not easy keeping faith in a world that is broken, but it is important to recognize and appreciate all the good things in life as well as the bad. Fear can blind us from joy if we let it. Surrounding myself with inspiring artists such as Terrance Vann and Alim Smith has really empowered me to have the strength to depict my truth as a Black woman. Terrance and Alim both focus their artwork on Afrocentric and urban themes as well as the empowerment of Black people. They both depict their environment and their truth. They have impacted others’ lives and they have certainly impacted mine in a very positive way!
Viewing Alim’s “Planet Her” exhibit during a Winter art loop in 2015 was the first time that I ever saw an entire gallery dedicated to the beauty and accomplishments of Black women. It was at that show that I completed my first painting in years named, “The Rising Phoenix Empress.” Truthfully, it is a choice to live a happy or sad life, but finding oneself and achieving self-actualization amongst all the negativity from the world can be quite difficult. The way I see it, adversity may be a rock that can crush me if I let it, but it’s also a rock that I can throw through the brick wall of “I can’t.” As my grandma used to say, “Can’t is dead and buried!” She would never let me talk negatively about myself around her. My family is full of achievers and legacies of which I take much pride in. I plan to create my own legacy as well!
First and foremost, I want to be seen as an individual. Being Christian, Black, female, and an advocate for the LGBT community are just societal labels. I am a hue-man being first and foremost. I prefer the term hue-man, because it’s a term that acknowledges my humanity, but also highlights how my life experiences differ greatly from someone who is not of color. Too often our experiences are dismissed and condemned as divisive and race-baiting. Our truth is very real, harsh and triumphant, and there is not one singular Black experience. I want to show my unique life in my art, as well. I am the daughter of a Methodist pastor and a Catholic mother. I have French Creole heritage from Louisiana and Mississippi and I have visited my extended family in New Orleans several times. Those visits gave me a sense of cultural identity because it was tangible and visible.
Too often, when it comes to Pan-Africanism, I feel that my African heritage is too distant to relate to. My African heritage is seven generations behind me from Sierra Leone. I am proud of my heritage, but often times I question if the term African American is really an accurate way to describe myself, not out of shame, but out of cultural and national relate ability. As a Black person in America, there is pressure from both sides, Black and White, to act, speak, dress and think a certain way. I don’t care to be boxed by either side. I know who I am and whose I am (A child of God). I am proud of myself and I don’t want to change myself for anyone else’s pleasure or comfort. I have always been different and unique, but I have struggled to become comfortable with my own individuality. Now, as an adult, I can proudly say that I am “rising from the ashes” and coming into my own.
Rising Phoenix is my artist name and the name that I gave myself for the purpose of empowerment. I researched the significance of renaming ceremonies for indigenous children. I cannot change the horrid past of colonization, slavery, or assimilation, but I can determine my own future. A phoenix is a legendary bird that resurrects from fire. A phoenix is always in flight, and never touches the ground. A phoenix flies so high it cannot be seen. When I picked my artist name, my father used to tease me and say that I should just call myself “Phoenix,” because adding “Rising” is redundant. However, the “Rising” part of my name is just as important as the “Phoenix” part. To rise means to ascend, to progress, to lift up from something low. That is a goal that I am not only trying to accomplish for myself, but a goal that I aspire to help others accomplish, as well. Everyone needs help sometimes, and I am more than grateful to God for blessing me with a loving, accepting family. They are my rock and foundation, and they always keep me humble with their well-intentioned teasing.
I told my mother that she better stop teasing me, because one day, I might become as famous as Leonardo Da Vinci! She replied, “Well good, I hope that you do, so that you can pay your own bills, and move out of the house!” My parents are very humorous people. They also joke that I am a linguist simply because I am so loquacious, that one language wasn’t enough to satisfy my wagging tongue. I love all the people that have supported me and helped me to grow and pursue my dreams. I cannot wait to publish more of my art and poetry in the future! I also plan to teach different languages across the world and bring people together.
To any aspiring artists, I encourage them to pursue their dreams no matter what. I think to myself about all the talented people I have encountered who are too afraid to sing outside of the shower, hang up a picture that they drew, or dare to dance outside of their bedroom. It is true that the world’s stage can be scary, but it is a stage worth performing on. There are people in the audience, waiting and hoping for that inspiration that will give them the courage to perform, too. My life motto is: “Each one, reach one, teach one!” Everyone isn’t going to appreciate everything an individual does and that’s okay. What matters is that an individual does what they do because it fulfills their life’s purpose. Live life to the fullest and live it in your truth!
Artwork by Madeline Porter