To be an artist on hiatus is to continually question one’s existence as an art maker and creator.
In recent years, I’ve grappled with what it means to be a Black woman artist in a world that is ever-evolving and tends to pit us against one another; as if there isn’t room for us all to grow and thrive. There is a great deal of imposter syndrome and seeds of doubt that can find their way into one’s psyche and can simply be devastating. This is the space where I’ve found myself; on an unwanted hiatus from the practices that fuel me most with no foresight on when it would end. No matter how much I yearned, attempted to ideate, or tried to get to the root of where my sudden inability to make meaningful images stemmed from – nothing seemed to stick or truly relieved me of the severe artist’s block I found myself in. Even as I write this, I haven’t yet found my way out.
Being an artist who isn’t actively making work isn’t a topic discussed nearly enough especially as we’ve found ourselves in another year of a worldwide health crisis that feels omnipresent, unending, and outright traumatizing. I’m doing this writing in hopes that it opens the door for folks to be reminded that it’s okay to go through the ups and downs of art-making (or not making, in this case) and the mere act of existing is fine too.
I recall a moment where I was confiding in a curator who almost exclusively works with West Indian and BIPOC artists how hard it was for me to get back into the routine of making photographs. They responded, “How could you call yourself a photographer if you don’t take any photos?”. I was stunned and hurt by the question, but didn’t realize how I felt about it until months following the interaction. It made me feel as though my only worth was tied into what I produce rather than my ability to claim “photographer” as the spirit of who I am and the way I view the world as the essence of my everyday existence. Beyond a spiral and further finding myself in a rut, that conversation led me to understand a few things… One: It is imperative to advocate for yourself at all points throughout your creative journey. This will always be easier said than done. I wonder if I had advocated for myself at this moment whether or not I would’ve felt different in the aftermath of further unpacking their question. Two: When seeking the support of those in the greater art community, it must be understood that compassion and empathy are critical traits that whom you are reaching out to must have the capacity to reciprocate. This isn’t anything we can control as we can only dictate our own actions, but it is something we can strive for. In this instance, the curator wasn’t able to extend that to me and at the end of the day, it’s something I don’t have to accept as fact. I have the power to choose what defines me – and you do too. Three: There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to sort out who you are, what you want to be, or how you want to be perceived as a person who just happens to be an artist too.
All these insights have been gained from being in the uncomfortable space where I’ve had to face myself and truly look inwards. Through discomfort, there is discovery. Although I’m still sorting myself out, I know that baby steps are undoubtedly better than standing in the same place. I’m choosing to grant myself compassion and forgiveness to see myself on the other side of this space and to be free from the guilt I’ve felt for not creating. If I can grant this to myself on hiatus year 4, I hope that you may do the same for yourself.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this,
Rachel Cassandra Gibbons