Source: Therosia Reynolds
At the age of 36, Therosia Reynolds took a fall at work, smashing her head against the concrete. She concussed and while for most people that would be the end of the story, Therosia, who had suffered through and survived Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), it was truly just the beginning.
In her teen years, the illness at times left her blind, paralyzed, rife with nausea and unable to hold down solid foods. The concussion, however, was a different story. It actually turned out to be a mild traumatic brain injury due to her brain already having experienced so much trauma from the IIH. This resulted in a year of physical and occupational therapy, ocular rehabilitation therapy and the inability to return to her career as a stockbroker. In the words of her neurologist, “You can never go back to being a stockbroker. Your brain requires rest. Your brain requires peace. Find the thing you love to do most, and do that.”
Black women, as a whole, are rarely afforded rest, much less peace. Many of us feel the weight of our existence on a daily basis – whether it’s from our partners, our children, employers/employees, society. The feeling of “I’ve got to save/fix/heal everything and everyone” is very real. But here, Therosia found a doctor demanding she heal herself. She listened and today, she is a successful and thriving artist. However, Therosia has no recollection of this fall. What she does know is that the fall was the sharp left turn that forced her to move her art from part-time gig to full time work and ultimately led her to her latest show.
God, Soulfood, and Superheroes is an homage to healing, love, rest, and notable Black figures – from history to present. She refers to it as bridging the gap between our ancestors and ourselves, and says we can’t get to that place of fully loving ourselves until we heal the trauma of where we have been.
“I want us to get to a place where Black and Afro-Latin people are accepted,” the artist said. “But I don’t want us to get there without first doing the work of acknowledging the trauma, and healing it. When I paint, I don’t just paint us to say ‘let’s love’. I paint to say we cannot love if we do not do this healing work.” And that healing work, she says, is in large part, rest.
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It is portrayed through pieces like “Aint I A SuperMAN,” a digital mock-up of the famous portrait of “Whipped Pete”, a slave with a scarred back from countless whippings. She placed the Superman emblem on his back because through scarification, it was seemingly already there. The Black Power fists in the background of the work represent us, Pete’s descendants. In the portrait, Pete’s back is to the camera, and though his back is barely recognizable as a body part once covered with skin, he seems to be relaxed in his pose. Almost at rest, if you will. And it is this rest that Therosia says is owed to us that is an integral part of our healing and journey to love.
“If you notice, none of the figures in my work are smiling,” said the Phoenix creative. “They are at rest because they, like us, deserve rest. Rest is part of the reparations that are owed to us as Black people. We’ve worked too hard and too long – rest, Black Boy Joy and Black Girl Luxury is our right! It is owed to us.”
I can’t say I disagree with her. As a Black woman journalist, covering everything from race issues to parenting while Black, to parenting a Black disabled child, it is wholly exhausting at times. And hearing Therosia tell me that rest is my right, that rest is owed to me, well, it’s revolutionary. No one tells Black women it’s okay to rest until it is practically too late. But here was one Black woman telling me, another Black woman, I could rest, right now. I could do it because it was my right. Huh.
In Reynolds’ latest work she takes the concept of superheroes and flips it on its head by portraying popular Marvel and DC comics as notable Black figures devoid of smiles; Stacey Abrams as Dr. Strange.
Rest might be my right, but for the moment, I had one more question for Therosia around one of her works. “Nothing Strange About Stacey’s Black Girl Magic,” a large portrait of Stacey Abrams as Dr. Strange. Why? Why that imagery? The Arizona native had this to say:
“Both Dr. Strange and Stacey were headed down a certain career path and due to circumstances beyond their control, they were forced to pivot. In that pivoting they ended up becoming powerful background figures in many people’s lives, fighting for the greater good. While Dr. Strange continues on, Stacey – a Black woman – gets to rest and heal before continuing on. And so to my sisters at-large I want to say this: Our work, what we do in this life is an outpour of who we are. It is not what we are. If we are not connected and at peace with ourselves, what we pour out will be chaos because we pour out from what is within us. Unhealed people pour out more trauma than others. If we want to pour out peace to our children and healing to the world, it must start within. And that means taking our rest, giving ourself love first, because you cannot love others to any degree higher than you love yourself – including your children. You can only give them what you give yourself. If it is a requirement that you would have them go further than you have, you must start by giving to yourself first. Put your oxygen mask on first. You owe it to yourself.”
And she’s right. You do. I do.
We all do.