Beauty is a Basic Right

Tanya Villanueva

April 22 - May 22, 2021


I know how it feels to be emptied out of life, of joy, of inspiration. I know a lot of us share this feeling of being stuck, catatonic or paralyzed by fear that we have come to know through terrible and very mundane everyday experiences. A lot of times I can detect where in my body does this feeling choose to reside. The lump of air at the back of my throat, a sharp tinge at the right side of my neck, my clenching teeth, hot tears, in bed, very soft and cold and cuddly. Whatever the feeling is, I have come to know the name of this thing that keeps on revealing itself in many different ways. Trauma.  And then there is this other thing that also hurts and wants release. This thing that favors our strength and sees our beauty in very mundane, very strange and very secretly splendid moments spurting sporadically throughout a good time.

“Our mothers and grandmothers, some of them: moving to music not yet written. And they waited. They waited for a day when the unknown thing that was in them would be made known; but guessed, somehow in their darkness, that on the day of their revelation they would be long dead.

…For these grandmothers and mothers of ours were not Saints, but Artists; driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was no release. They were Creators, who lived lives of spiritual waste, because they were so rich in spirituality-which is the basis of Art-that the strain of enduring their unused and unwanted talent drove them insane. Throwing away this spirituality was their pathetic attempt to lighten the soul to a weight their work-worn, sexually abused bodies could bear.

What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? In our great- grandmothers’ day? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.”

– From In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker, 1972

What does it mean for a common folk to be an artist in our time? This time, when the ruling class already got their dibs on our world and of its people. What does it mean to feel this rich spirit of creation and magic slowly loosening its grip on your body in exchange for more time to clean, to make food, to commute to and away from work, to survive?

Every time I try to figure out what the future would look like, I come up with very different and very creative scenarios in my head but I don’t have the answers. Every time I feel uninspired and alone, I am reminded how this feeling reflects so much on everybody else that happens to still be alive. And then there are all the other people- dead and killed; just yesterday, a few weeks ago, last year, years before me. How did this spirit of creation and magic flow through them? How did they care for those moments of recognition of a full self? I do not have the answer but I know that I carry with me the same wants and dreams that they have. We all share and continue what was left for us by everybody else that already went away. We carry them and we carry each other whether we are aware of it or not. I’m not sure that I am coming across clearly to you but what I mean to do with this thing and this moment is to recognize that my creativity is not mine alone. That the time and the circumstance from where I stand is a shared position and insight. My work, my income, my resources are not only for me. And if I want to be part of the future I should start shaping its existence everyday through small, attainable ways. I share my creativity and hopefulness and resources not just to the people in close proximity to my world but more to the people who I recognize to be experts in taking care of everybody else. I will forever be inspired and be indebted by the real bearers of creativity and culture. Our mothers, our fathers, our farmers, our workers.