originally published February 18, 2006

The start of the new semester put me on a different course for awhile, literally, and I found myself heading the Art Department on an interim basis this semester with many new tasks to fulfill as the semester began. On top of that, I had already agreed to re-install my MFA exhibition titled “Se(a) Crossings: Time in the midst of the pressures of chaos” in the Mott Fine Arts Gallery, located in the Visual Arts & Design Center. This required having to redesign the “floor poem” and reprint it to fit the new 19×30 ft space. The original installation at Kresge Art Museum fit into an 18×18 ft corner. The new installation was made more dramatic by the addition of a black curtain that redirected visitors into the gallery from the door entry. I believe the results were much better than even the original exhibition. You can see photos of “Se(a) Crossings, v2” online and judge for yourself.

My distractions in recreating and reinstalling Sea Crossings served as an appropriate reframing of my thoughts as I tried to prepare for developing Dana’s portrait, the eighth and final one in the “Telling My Story” project. These two-dimensional narrative conceptual portraits are really just the beginning of what will hopefully become another multimedia installation akin to Se(a) Crossings, in that it should immerse the visitor in the journey of recovery from homelessness. However, the 2D portraits are necessary for developing the framework for a variety of applications, from publications to gallery installations to educational programs.

Dana is an artist in her own right. A poet, a visual artist, a singer and an actress. Of all of the women I interviewed, she seems to be the most “healed” and most clear in her understanding of her path in life and the brilliance that her future may hold. Rather than dwell on the pain of her past, she celebrates her liberation from it, writing her stories and poetry to help bring these experiences to a new level of understanding and artistic application. She has proven to be a leader among her peers and inspires them to keep going, keep moving towards a healing future.

And so the time that I spent revisiting my own artistic expressions provided me with the opportunity to free myself from the chores of daily life and work. I found my thoughts becoming clearer, as if a fog had been lifted and had liberated me from the weight of the heavy loads I had been carrying. All the while, I was listening to Dana tell me her story, and then again during her poetry reading at Cranbrook, and her song that she sang as a blessing upon the crowd that came to honor her. She told of her time living in the south after living in Detroit. It had snowed and she knew it was bad when no one was at at the Piggly Wiggly. She said this with such delight that I could not help but be infected by her laughter. She told of her childhood and participation in a professional theatre show. And she told of her time when she found herself living in her Geo Metro, trying to fit her less than slim figure around the gear shift in order to find a moment’s comfort. She described the play she was writing about the women who go from shelter to shelter as a means of getting by. “Shelterized” is what she called it, when one gets used to the conditions in the shelter, as an accepted lifestyle.

Her portrait visually describes the turmoil that is depicted in a cloud of confusion overlaid with a handwritten poem she wrote about homelessness. Throughout the narrative portrait, however, there are almost no indoor scenes. Dana’s world is not restrained by walls. She tears them down to create a wider range of vision. The waterfront in Detroit was an important feature for Dana and so it figures prominently in her portrait. Her award winning poem – “A River of Tears” – becomes the central text that ties her life story together. Some handwritten text appears above her head in the only indoor photo taken of Dana when we first met in Dr. Moxley’s office. He would use the windows to brainstorm his thoughts on his thesis of intentional community. The words that were written on the window over her head seemed apt and so I kept them in Dana’s portrait because of her work with both Dr. Moxley and Dr. Washington in the Telling My Story project.

Dana’s portrait also includes images from her scrapbook as well as her poetry medal. The bridge, some railroad tracks and a steep steel staircase appear in varying degrees within the landscape of the portrait. They serve as reminders of the various paths that Dana’s journey has taken. The photo on the right-most side of the portrait was taken during her Cranbrook poetry reading and is overlaid with crabapple flowers in fresh bloom. For that is Dana’s life now, a renewal of her artistry, her fortitude, and her spirit.

Towards the right third of the portrait appears a very small image of a Japanese tea set that had been arranged on Dana’s dining table in her little but well-planned studio apartment on Peterson Street. The tea set serves as a symbol of her process of reflection, and renewal, as Dana continues to seek a path towards balance.


Dana’s finished portrait

Sunday, February 19, 2006
Mara Jevera Fulmer