There is a close alignment, in my thinking, between the spiritual and the aesthetic, that they are twins.
From the start, while working with LaunchPodium to design the book’s website, Robert’s aesthetic was everywhere apparent. I soon came to value his eye. Design seemed important to him in everything he touches. And this continued without exception. Thrilling to me!
So it is with great holiday cheer that I introduce Robert Shabazz who offered to share his response to one of the chapters in This is Why I Came. The one he chose was Mary Magdalen.
I had come to think of Mary Magdalen as older than Jesus and wiser in many ways. Ways that she shared with him, crossing the difference in their ages, their life work.
As the book launch party approached, Robert helped me with all things visual. “Yes, a burlap tablecloth will be perfect… I’ll bring pyracantha berries. Yes, tie the heel in the front not the back to show that detail at the back of the shoe, it mirrors the cut of the back of your dress.” And I felt beautiful that night.
I considered the way art and life sometimes mirror each other. Friendship between an older woman and a younger man. Friendship that is not sexual but is deep and tender-hearted. Friendship that crosses racial and economic and gender lines. That we have these stories in the Bible perhaps so that we recognize them in ourselves. So that we recognize what we have. So that on some particular day we stop short and say, Oh, yes. We are friends! We have crossed all of our differences and found a common ground. A joyful recognition to which an unbeliever might say, “Yes! Yes!” and the believer “Amen!”
I can’t pinpoint to a single moment where I fell in love with art or even when it was introduced to me. It wasn’t one specific piece that opened my eyes or a time where my grandmother took me to the museum and suddenly I was dazzled. Art was just, it seems, always there. Like an old friend, always helping me along the way.
While I can’t identify a start, I do remember periods. Like making loosely plotted comic books with even looser color pencil lines when I was six, because I was an only child and my family had just uprooted from Kentucky to Guam and I hadn’t made friends yet.
Or when I was in the second grade and made a papier-mâché pig out of a balloon and toilet paper tubes and painted him to look like he was wearing a white button-down shirt and brown trousers because I wanted to be an archaeologist and I thought that’s what they all wore.
And when I was nine, I learned that I was more excited by the work of Monet and Seurat and trying my hand at painting than I was at origami. Props to my mom for FaceTiming me and sending me a photo of this still life I made during that time. I really wish I could remember who the original artist was that inspired this exploration sixteen years ago.
Or being 11 and making my first handful of fan websites for my favorite television characters for fun, completely oblivious I was setting the foundation for my web design skills and would later make a career out of those skills.
I’m very much a visual learner, so presumably that’s where my direct and natural connection to art comes from. But I think it’s also the lack of boundaries and ambiguity. You can follow the rules. Or not. It’s your story to show-and-tell.
Aside from helping me remember and relate certain things and events, art has helped me understand people or ideas I can’t necessarily wrap my head around. One of those being religion.
When it came to working with Mary and This is Why I Came, I initially found myself feeling I would be at a loss because I immediately didn’t think I would relate to the work because I had failed to connect to the Bible or any particular denomination in the past.
But that feeling quickly subsided upon hearing Mary discuss individual chapters and characters and showing examples of art that she connected to them. Suddenly, I understood and empathized with characters and stories that I had previously been mystified and frustrated by.
Reading the chapters of This is Why I Came next to artwork Mary carefully and diligently curated, became an experience. I could see the relationship between Noah and God in an abstract Matisse. I could feel the pain and anguish of Mary Magdalen in Riemenschneider’s sculpture.
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to dabble in various forms and fields of art (with so many more areas to dip my toes in) and to have it help me define how I see the world and understand the things in it. It’s almost like a timeline where I can correlate specific milestones and periods in my life to what I was most interested in or feeling or experiencing. Sometimes I think about how much I wish I was still interested in being an archaeologist. Or maybe it’s because I just miss digging in the dirt and being innocent enough to think that’s all there was to being an archeologist.
Robert Shabazz is the Visual Designer at LaunchPodium in San Francisco. He can be contacted at [email protected]