These works are part of my ongoing exploration of the many intersections of the Indigenous and African Diasporas, of which my tribe, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is a part. The portraits that currently exist are of loved ones from Panama and the Dominican Republic.
I traveled to Panama for the first time in June 2012, through an Alternate ROOTS Artistic Assistance Professional Development grant. I chose to go to the town of Portobelo. The people of Portobelo are descendants of the Cimarrones, enslaved Africans who escaped their Spanish masters and lived together as outlaws in the jungle. One of the first parts of the “New World” to be pillaged, Christopher Columbus originally named the port "Puerto Bello," meaning "Beautiful Port," in 1502.
The Cimarrones and their descendents, like the Lumbee, are a people of resistance. Like us, they are resilient, they are survivors, they are artists and although it’s often an unpopular truth, WE ARE RELATED.
I met my friend, Gustavo Esquina, through the Taller Portobelo Norte Artist Residency Program (Studio North, Portobelo). Gustavo is an extremely talented multidisciplinary artist for social justice in his community.
During my stay, we collaborated on a painting, a portrait of Gustavo as a “Moderno Rey Cimarron Congo” or “Modern Cimarron Congo King.” First, we discussed the content and concept of the portrait, in which Gustavo appears dressed in his contemporary soccer shirt as well as a traditional Cimarron crown, to the point that he is the living legacy of his ancestors. Gustavo helped with the drawing of the Cimarron crown. He is also the author and painter of the text in the piece, “Moderno Rey Cimarron Congo Hijo de Portobelo. Tierra con vestigios de Africa, selva, salitre y sol; Modern Cimarron Congo King Son of Portobelo. Land with vestiges of Africa, jungle, sea salt and sun.” This piece was a continuation of the same concept I had been exploring through my Exquisite Lumbees series, which is comprised of illuminated life-sized portraits of Lumbee people of my own generation, each dressed in clothing of their choice, each defying stereotypes about Lumbees and all Native people just by being visible, alive and effortlessly beautiful.
All of these portraits speak to our truth of living/walking in two worlds; of being the living legacy of our people and honoring that in our contemporary existence.
Moreover, since my last visit to Panama, I learned at a conference in my own tribal homeland that for some years, more Natives were shipped out of the port of Charleston to the Caribbean as slaves than were Africans shipped in. Natives in the Southeast United States and the peoples of the Caribbean are quite literally related. More to come.