Back when I was a boy, my father had a picture on the wall that absolutely captivated me. It was an oil painting. This was no ordinary two dollar, Kmart special, all your neighbors have it, in a cheap frame painting either. This was a painting that my brother, Rheem, had created. He'd resided in the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet (Statesville) since as far back as I can remember being able to understand that he was. He sent my dad this painting on Father's Day.
My father had a frame hand crafted for it to rest in and put it on the living room wall. This painting was a depiction of a man barely standing up, in a dark place. His elbows were bent and his forearms were stretched out. In his arms were three babies. He was a black man who wore a large afro. His eyes were as red as the flames in hell.
And speaking of hell, there was an over shadow of some kind of treacherous demon that surrounded him. His face looked emaciated and extremely dark. His skin appeared to be wrinkled by pain. His neck was stretched out as to illuminate the tear that rolled down from his eye, gracefully sliding around his cheek bone.
His clothes were tattered and torn. His silk shirt with a parley design, was just barely hanging on to his well defined, undernourished, bone structure. In his hands and fingers, were muscles, veins, and blisters. He wore a pair of weathered, bell bottomed jeans. His socks were loose fitting about the ankles.
And his reddish brown clod hoppers were seemed to drip of blood. He wore no jewelry and was not very well groomed. He did, however, have a medallion that laid between his fingers. This medallion had a picture of what appeared to be a picture of the continent of Africa.
The babies that he held in his arms were black children. They were dressed in dy-shiekees and huddled together as if they were scared to let go of each other. They had bottles in their mouths that contained some sort of purple substance. They didn't appear to be scared of falling from the loosely held arms of the man but feared separation from each other. Their eyes were closed but you could grasp the feelings of there expressions through the wrinkles in their foreheads.
This painting made me feel something. At the time, I wasn't really sure what, but it was something that I'd never felt before. I do remember thinking that this was the first picture that I had seen that had black people in it. Before then, the only black people I saw in paintings, pictures, or magazines, were Africans.
Or Bill Cosby. This painting somehow made me feel a part of. I felt like it was someone in my family before it was explained to me by my father. Later on in life, I was able to feel the significance of the creation. This piece was formulated in the nine-teen seventies. This was during the end of the civil rights movement.
It was symbolic of the struggles and strides of the Black man. My brother had actually created a self-portrait and had incorporated it to fit the everyday black man that lived in our surroundings. To me, the demon symbolized all the vices and self destructive paths that were part of the choices in life. The man was struggling trying to figure out a path of life that would benefit him the most.
He could barely stand for the burden of his family and also from the weight of life as it was.