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Inspired by Tupac's "So Many Tears."

Tupac speaks vulnerably about the struggles of inner-city life for a Black male. Specifically the first few bars, "Back in elementary,

I thrived on misery

Left me alone, 

I grew up amongst a dyin' breed

Inside my mind,

couldn't find a place to rest

Until I got that Thug Life tatted on my chest."

Then, in another part of the song, he says, "Take me away from all the pressure, and all the pain

Show me some happiness again, 

I'm goin' blind

I spend my time in this cell, ain't livin' well

I know my destiny is Hell, where did I fail?

My life is in denial, and when I die

Baptized in eternal fire, 

I'll shed so many tears."

And later he says," Now I'm Lost and I'm weary,

So many tears,

I'm suicidal so don't stand near me

My every move is a calculated step,

to bring me closer to embracing an early death."

In simpler terms, Tupac is saying that since he was a child he felt the burdens of sadness and loneliness, as he had to become accustomed to death early on. Due to this, his mind was in constant turmoil until he felt a sense of belonging when he joined a gang.

In the present day, he is begging to be taken away from the pain he struggles with as a consequence of this lifestyle he chose. As he recognizes the lifestyle he lives is morally incorrect, he wonders where in his life did he go wrong to be on this path. Yet in still he hopes that something cleanses him of his great sins and he can rejoin God when it is his time.

These words reminded me of a section in the book  "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome" where the author, Joy DeGruy, wrote about how Black men in these conditions indirectly commit suicide to escape their lives because depression and suicide are socially unacceptable. And when you stand back and examine the optics, gang life is inherently suicidal and traumatizing.

Oftentimes when discussing Black liberation we see gang life as something that is harmful to our livelihood and has ruined our progress-- and I agree. But I also feel that we rarely see the nuance of the issue at hand. We rarely examine this issue as an intentional symptom of our history.

So I made this piece, with the desire to highlight a story untold within the fine arts space. I wanted to provide nuance to a topic that, to my knowledge, has always been Black and White. I wanted to provide a voice for someone that I may know, someone that you may know but may not understand.

 I am not here to glorify a lifestyle that causes harm or frame all Black people as victims of our history, but I am aiming to add perspective. To add compassion and empathy.

When I look at people part of this lifestyle, who grew up in it I see people "trapped inside a ghetto maze," as my mom would say. I see people institutionalized, mentally and physically. 

I would ask myself what the world expected of people without a solid family structure. People who are surrounded by death so much so, that they are desensitized to it. People who are without a loving community? Without money to get by? Without the opportunity to physically escape? Is it that hard to realize that the family and community missing from one's life are then supplemented by belonging to a gang? Why is it that we can examine the psychological effects of the trauma of slavery in every other subject but this one? Why are we so unwilling to love, support, and help those within this environment? What made us abandon collectivism?

With this painting, I wanted to represent a boy who grew up in a warzone. A boy who becomes a part of this war, as he knows nothing else. A boy who wishes to be free but does not know how to free himself, or at least doesn't have the resources to.

So, how does he escape? Does he walk over the corpses and risk getting shot? Does he ignore his own wound? Does he duck? Does he shoot back? Does he pick a side in a never-ending war? Where does he go to reach peace? How does he make it out when he's already in this deep?

Rarely do we comprehend that most people are a product of their environment, and sometimes do not have the strength to persevere. Sometimes, surviving and even assimilating is all the persevering one can do on their own. 

So I have him standing strong, even if he is hurt. He is surviving within an environment designed to kill him, still wanting peace of mind, just as our ancestors did in the past. Just as we do every day.

I have compassion for him because I didn't grow up in that environment, but I know people who did. I talked to people who did, I love people who did. And this lifestyle isn't as simple as a decision.

I just believe that his story matters.

And one day, I hope to help this issue beyond painting a picture.

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My experience being diagnosed with Lupus Nephritis at the top of 2024, along with the meaning and questions behind my newest painting "Rise."

It took three visits to my doctor and two visits to the ER for me to be diagnosed with Class 4 Lupus Nephritis. This diagnosis means that my immune system is attacking my vital organs and tissues, but chose to really attack my kidney. That more than 50% of my important blood vessels were damaged before I received proper treatment, and eventually, I may need dialysis or even a kidney transplant.

"Rise." Sketch. Procreate. I made this during my time in the hospital.

During this time, I was hospitalized twice, both times for 5 days. Both times, time stood still as I gazed outside my window wondering when this would start making sense. Sitting and wondering, why I became sick.

Wrestling with my maybes, I wondered if God stopped loving me. Or maybe he gave up on me. Or maybe I was born to suffer.

Maybe I deserved this.

Maybe I needed to revert back to my intense solitude.

Or maybe I was someone who would always be almost there, just for something to pull me back into that abyss…

When family visited I would feel so good again, all sentimental and warm-like because I felt their love. Especially when they’d make me laugh, hug me tight, or make me watch Tubi movies. 

But when the clock struck 9, and the nurse made them leave, the loneliness would return, and I’d be back to staring out my window as tears would fall down my cheek.

I’d wonder if I was weak because I wasn’t a lupus warrior, and I had no desire to be one. I read other Black women’s stories and most would say things like they worked from their hospital beds. That their pace didn’t change. That they were mostly silent about the emotional toll lupus had on them.

I wondered if I was weak because I did none of those things. I let those who asked know that my life had changed, that I was different, that I was sick and I would always be that way. That I was in pain, that emotionally and physically I was not the same. I took a break from school, I said no to opportunities, and I decided to be still for a while as I got used to my new body.

I wondered why I was supposed to be strong at a time when I barely had the strength to stand on my feet. 

Why is it that my non-Black doctors could so easily tell me that they were sorry for my condition, while so many relatives and friends just decided I would be fine?

Why did my not being okay feel like it threatened their comfort?

Sometimes I'd catch myself pretending, holding in my tears and telling the tale that I was fine because I didn't want to be a burden looking for sympathy.

Looking outside my window my grandmother and the people I read about would cross my mind, and I’d wonder if they downplayed their illnesses because they knew people just wouldn’t understand. Or maybe they didn’t want them to worry. Or maybe they were tethered to the idea of being "strong," of not being a "burden."

And then I’d wonder why we were silently taught to bear the entire weight of being ill so that the healthy people around us would feel okay.

So, in that bed, looking out my window, I decided there was nothing strong about suffering in silence and I’d weep for them. 

I prayed that those people would know that vulnerability was strength enough so they wouldn’t live a life of carrying around all they had to go through as it made them sicker.

Looking outside my window I thought about why Blackness was so limited that we are rarely allowed to explore our humanity and all that it is. For the good, bad, and the ugly. We only ever wanted to talk about our perseverance and excellence.

Why did my being sensitive always feel like a rebellion against my skin? I thought about my art. I asked why we were so bound to the idea that strength had everything to do with suffering in solitude. Why did we not realize that being a golden trophy was still a shell? Was still an assumption that we lacked depth and complexity? Why did we keep ourselves bound just because we were shiny?

Why did I, a Black woman, have such a hard time allowing someone to hold me when I needed to be held? Why was I so ashamed of crying when they diagnosed me? Why did I let the world take away my delicate nature so that I could just harbor everyone else's pain while mine lay doormat and fester into what is now a lifelong disease? Why was I willing to continue doing this to myself? Attempting to carry everyone else's stuff along with mine.

So I asked myself, why couldn't I be a sensitive Black woman? Why couldn't I be a sensitive, sick Black woman? Why, even now, was I confined to confidence and strength when I had neither?

And after a while, I let myself cry to God, to my parents, to my brother, to my boyfriend, to my aunts. I’d let my tears flow into their shoulders, and they’d let me crumble.

And it felt so, so good to have the freedom to be weak.

And in my tears, my cries out to God, in my days where I’d just lay down, I began to wonder why I became sick again as I wrestled with my maybes.

Maybe it was so I could lay down, and look outside my window. Maybe it was for me to realize that I was gifted with feeling deeply. Maybe it was to remind me I was not in control. Maybe it was so I could take walks, and appreciate the blue sky. Maybe it was to give me time to imagine. To feel God. To appreciate the simple things around me. To allow myself to be held. To wake up and cry. To be a soft woman. To stop feeling so embarrassed about these things.

"Rise." 40x60 in. Oil Painting on Stretched Canvas. May, 2024.

Maybe… it was just so I could let myself be.

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There are so many things that go into becoming an artist. Although, the main thing that's been plaguing my mind lately is "Who am I?"

Me photographed at Black in Mayberry's "Art Against Racism" Exhibition, next to my painting "Sisterly Love"

I thought I had that all figured out. I thought that my creating vulnerable artwork, exploring the depths of my emotions and the way I was seeing the world was enough because I was "Opening the conversation." But over time, as I have met seasoned artists, faced so much trial and error, and spoken with my professors I have learned that I have to guide that conversation that I am opening.


Why Did I Even Start Painting?

The "Why's" and the "How's" are so blurry to me these days. I just know that when I was younger I struggled with seeing my features as beautiful, and my peers didn't help.

I was never regarded as someone beautiful or even pretty. I was just Nia with the big butt. That was the only thing that seemed to be desirable of me. Even seeing television, paintings, and media. The Black women who received praise for their faces had slim noses medium-sized lips and perfect skin. I didn't have any of that. All of my features are strong.

So when I began to paint myself I was trying to make a statement of my own features being regarded as the standard of beauty. I had a certain understanding that these paintings of White women were statements of beauty, so why not paint myself in that same way?

And even beyond that, I have always been painfully sensitive and painfully bold. I have always felt deeply and there was also a point in my life where I was so bold and loud, but deep inside I was hurting. So I made my work bright and vibrant while exploring my depression through the use of symbolism.

It had got to a point where people were telling me that they saw themselves in my own self-portraits so I figured that was it. That was my mission and that was where the journey of what I represent stops. I thought that my painting to make people feel, to make them see themselves in me, and to create a space for empathy was enough.

But for where I wanted to go, as time went on, I realized that it wasn't enough.

And realizing that turned into a snowball that ended with me wondering who I am. As a woman, as a 20-something-year-old, and as an artist. Who am I? And what do I want to represent? What do I want to say?

And I'm stuck between not knowing and having so many messages to share.

Pieces of Me

I am a Black woman who was made fun of for being weird and "not that cute." I grew up in Compton up until I was seven, and the rest of my teenage life was spent in Columbus Ohio (with the exception of my year in New Jersey). I was in love with some boy every year since I was five. I'm always asking "why." I grew up not poor, but far from rich, more so like lower middle class. I have family members who spent time in prison. I was sexualized for having curves since I was young. I have seen police brutality. And even with all of these experiences, I don't shy away from it. I'd like to think that these things, shaped my artistic practice and why I see so many issues I want to confront through my work.

And even when analyzing my interests... I like anime. I like Reality Television. I like raunchy female rap, just like I like pop girlie songs. I can be just as corny as I am sarcastic. I like history. I like pop culture. I like psychology... the list goes on and on when it comes to my likes, experiences, and my past. Some things make sense, some things surprise people. It's just so much to me.

Still, I lied about those things depending on who I was around. I was always different for different people. Only giving people pieces of me because I thought they wouldn't accept all of me. All of my stories, all of my differences. But the truth was, I just didn't accept me. So I hid pieces based on what I thought they'd like.

And I feel like this bled into my artistic practice. My work isn't very cohesive because I have all these parts of me I have yet to blend. It is just pieces compiled into a story that is mine, but nothing is holding them together...

I just need to find that string.

So now I am at this point where I am trying my best to take those pieces apart and be whole again. To be all of me at all times.

So I Ask Again, Who Am I?

I can truthfully say I don't know who I am. I just know who I want to be. And in ways, I feel me being okay with not knowing, and knowing I am in such a transitional space is enough.

I want to learn how to truly love, and give and take in a healthy way. I want to know what a true community is. I want to learn more and know more about the topics that resonate with me.

I often catch myself not knowing what else to say once I make a powerful statement. It's like I have a thesis with no essay a lot of the time.

So although I still have no idea of who I am. I know who I want to be. And I want to be someone who reads and knows what she stands for and stands for all of it. I want to make statements that go beyond a surface-level conversation. I want to be able to fully articulate what I think and feel. I want to be whole. I want to be all of myself and represent all of myself.

And most of all, I want my artwork to mirror that, and guide the many conversations I intend to be the pillar of.

I just have to find the string to connect everything.

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