cover & inside cover of self-portrait book

Last week for me began in Atlanta at a Full Disclosure Facilitator training led by Barbara Rosenblit and Sheila Miller who were sharing their process of artistic storytelling as a way to create connection, honor community, and preserve history. This collaborative experience with Jewish Women’s Archive’s Story Aperture application was rich and engaging. The three-day training gave me the gift of a full day of creative process which is precious, even for someone who is constantly involved in creative work. I was excited to meet two Jewish Women’s Archive colleagues, CEO Judith Rosenbaum and Program Director Betsy More, for the first time in-person! And, this was also a rare moment at an event not specifically designated for Jewish people of color where, among ten amazing participants, I had the pleasure of spending time with Victoria Raggs of Atlanta Jews of Color Council and Shula Mola, a Beit Israel scholar preserving the histories of Ethiopian Jews in Israel from the historic Jewish village of Enkash.

Victoria Raggs, Erica Riddick, Shula Mola (l-r)

The word pentimento, which Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines as “a reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist” was introduced through the title of the presenters’ book, Pentimento-Revealing Women’s Stories. The concept of pentimento makes me think of how Jewish people of color have been obscured from a narrative that continues to be white-washed so pervasively it has colored the imaginations of people of color. I appreciate having another tool in my toolbox to support the endeavor of revealing stories that have always been there.

I was intrigued when I first received the list of materials to bring with me to the training… five self-portraits of me with encouragement for playful experiment (perhaps my two favorite words in succession), words that speak to a personal philosophy, three-dimensional items to embellish the piece, and an object to introduce myself. Many women continued their introductions into their self-portrait piece which was a wood box in the shape of a book with a hinged lid.  My project followed suit in a way. I had introduced myself through my love of libraries, noting a particular fondness for dictionaries. The photograph I selected for the lid was me holding my favorite dictionary, a gorgeous pale blue bound embossed Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language circa 1950s. In a moment of symbiotic presence, Sheila brought along a 1938 dictionary for participants to use to add meaning. My cover materialized with an energy of its own… My book box was embellished with beloved quotes from Octavia Butler, Audre Lorde, Michael W. Twitty, and more; small rocks; and butterflies.  The interior of the box includes a cartographical history, linking my love of books and maps through a geographically imprint.

One of the best parts of the experience was, after sharing and listening to other participants as they constructed their projects, we witnessed the completed (or in-process) work and what the artist chose to share about the piece with those assembled. I am a performer who understands the importance of having an audience to receive you.  As part of the current Jewish Studio Project, Creative Facilitating Training cohort, I am understanding deeper nuances of how generative being a witness to someone’s creative practice can be. I am giddy at the interplay between the artistic spaces I inhabit and the role creativity plays in everything I do, and all that I am.

My self-portrait book remains untitled and still needs an artist statement, but I am excited to share and facilitate this practice. Upcoming events will offer ripe opportunities to share this tool with artists, historians, and storytellers of all ages. This year the theme of the Jews of Color Mishpacha Project, JoCISM Shabbaton over June 16-18 is “We Are Family”, which will be immediately followed by a LGBTQI Juneteenth celebration of “Collecting Our Stories”, and immediately preceded by the launch of the Black Jewish Liberation Collective, Dismantling Racism From the Inside Out, a joint organizer mussar va’ad. Jews of Color Sanctuary is collaborating with Edot and Kol Or, the Jews of Color Caucus of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, in the development of a Midwest mussar va’ad–one of many ways to bring national initiatives home to Cincinnati after transporting a taste of the Midwest to the world.