With darkness as her teacher: Artist Alexa Black
This article is not about me as a writer. This is not about attaching my name to something and thus claiming it as my own to some extent. This article is entirely to celebrate one of my biggest inspirations and oldest friends. A human who speaks with the grace of those a thousand years old, though would never self-describe as such. A shamanistic soul, with hair made of lavender flowers and veins that are filled with smoke of the elders. A woman who has bathed in the vapours of sage fires, salt of the ocean, and wandered in sunlight over glassy sands in the desert; on a perpetual, insatiable quest. A woman who stripped her ego many times over in order to delve deeper into the strange recesses of the world and understand why it is; and in so doing, who has captured the finite beauty in the chaotic scramble of it all in an enduring form.
This article is to celebrate Alexa Black (her chosen name), and to celebrate a part of her journey which she has chosen to capture through works of art. These works draw from fleeting resources like animal hides, wild flowers, birch bark, and even menstrual blood. Vessels that hold no more permanence than a week, a season, a few years. And yet, in the works of art that are created, Black tells a story about the overall condition of the world, its ailments, and above all the connectedness that makes it all one large being. Alexa Black is an artist that stokes my soul and stirs my spirit of wonder. I hope that her powerful creations will invoke in you what they have in me.
Below, Black tells a little of the roots of her creative process.
Willow: What is your heritage?
Alexa: My heritage is mestizo. I’m a mix of Spanish, Mayan, and Nahua peoples. On my dad’s side, I am not entirely sure, but my grandmother is of Celtic descent with the last name Brennan, which in Galek translates to “descendant of the raven.” My step father, who is the man who raised me, is like my own blood. He is Métis, fore-mothers being Cree. He is a large influence in my spiritual journey, which is heavily embedded in my art.
Where do you currently reside?
I currently reside in my apartment for a month in East Vancouver. In one week, I will be traveling to the states and living in my car, once again. So I guess for now, home is where I lay my head.
You’ve done some extensive travelling in the time that I’ve known you. Perhaps you could tell me a little about the places you’ve been?
I’ve traveled to about 16 different countries, mostly on my own. This would turn into somewhat of a novel if I were to start telling you about the places I have been to and my experiences in each place, but I’ll narrow it down to one experience which weaves them all together…
How did these experiences affect your artwork?
Seeing the common experiences of disconnection and chaos as the fruition of capitalism has bred a deep yearning for the re-connection that animistic cultures had with the spirit of the natural world. I think that’s what comes out in my art. I feel I use a lot of circles or arches to frame my pieces to symbolize cycles and connection of the self to everything else, as all things are related. That simple statement of all things being related delves deep into our personal actions, thoughts, and emotions and their ramifications.
Much of your travel and endeavours that I have known have been in the pursuit of understanding medicine and learning about the natural world. How does your artwork tie into that?
The most influential experiences I’ve had that pertain to my art consist of the darkness I’ve witnessed from oppression/consequences of colonization. I am influenced not only by my travels, but every day life here on the collective unceded territories that we call “Canada.” When I was in South America, I was cleaning up some residual PTSD from being an RN in Africa and on the streets of Victoria. I pursued this journey because I have been completely in love with the life of plants since I can remember. The passion became fully awakened by delving into the world of psilocybin mushrooms in my late teens. When I would embark on these journeys, I would often go deep into the woods and into my subconscious. I was able to tap into painful memories or blissful experiences that I could detach from, which liberated wide space inside of the self, from which I drew inspiration from. Within this space and understanding, I could appreciate how my personal experiences and that of the collective consciousness could bring me to this point of existence and humble me into deep gratitude for the present time in all its teachings. This magic lead me to working alongside a few medicine people in the aboriginal communities, which I reconnected to (being raised on the Red Road for a portion of my childhood). This brought me to connect to other indigenous people who had other psychotropic plant teachers and off I went: to discover the abyss of consciousness through surrounding myself with plants and their pharmacopeia. In this experience, I decided to do an isolation diet, which stripped me of the disconnection that is produced by the constant “connection” of the technically dense capitalist society we live in. During the diet, I was in a perpetual state of fasting, silence, and meditation with only the influence of the plants and animals surrounding me in the rainforest. It was here that I allowed my spirit to travel as my body became increasingly weak. Through this experience, I could understand how our ancestors connected to medicine before science through clairvoyance and lucidity. Hence, the nature of my work. I am trying to rekindle a memory, which harnesses the respectful, holistic relationship that humans can have within themselves, the earth and all the beings that reside upon it when they begin the process of self healing.
Photo of Alexa Black.
What especially drew you to the native woman imagery?
The native woman imagery… I find comfort in the arms of my elders who hold ancient wisdom. I revere the feminine in everything because I am exhausted of seeing the feminine being dysmorphic to its true essence through the patriarchal veil we are cloaked in. Women are magical, nurturing, live givers. Our wombs are the essence of creation, where life and death simultaneously reside. In my opinion, that deserves ultimate respect. Our crones are few and far between as a result of our ageist society. Thus, my work is an attempt to bestow the true beauty of the feminine form. When I draw a face, I may or may not use a reference. I don’t necessarily give a particular race or nation to my characters, it just comes out that way. I feel that it’s my subconscious attempt to reconnect to my indigenous roots. Furthermore, I identify as a woman of colour, being of mixed descent. That being said, I find beauty in diversity as opposed to mono-culture. In no way is my intention to be culturally appropriating, for my work is not claiming concepts that are my own without commitment to future generations. I am simply sharing my understanding of what I value in hopes that it inspires other people to gain some insight into their own lives and what they value/ how they live in accordance to that.
What projects and mediums are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a potential show with hides that were hand tanned by myself and my ex partner/best friend when we lived on Haida Gwaii. This is an ongoing test, trying to figure out what medium is best to apply to the hide. It is a statement of not wasting any part of the animal that nourished us or our friends and promising it that it will continue to be honoured as a medicine. This body of work will be a continuation of what I mentioned formerly regarding reconnection. However; this project has been on the back burner, since I have been delving into the steep learning curve of ambrotypes and tintypes to convey a controversial topic that I feel the pressing need to share with the world. I don’t want to reveal too much here before the work is complete, but it is essentially embodying the essence of how capitalism arose after feudalism through the enslavement of the female body… essentially, it is an extension of the decolonization movement.
How do you continue to stoke the fires of inspiration?
I stay in my light and in my centre. That’s not an easy task, but I make conscious decisions on a daily basis to obtain it. For instance, I quit my career as a nurse because it was dimming out my personal light. i didn’t become a nurse to have a comfortable paycheck by wage slaving my ass through sterile fields, distracting myself from the world’s despair with shiny things that my money could buy. I did it to care for people when they were hurting. It was tempestuous as fuck, but the way in which that system is functioning is incredibly controversial and corrupted. I couldn’t live without that knowledge weighing heavy on my consciousness because people were not actually healing in the parts of the system that I was familiar with. Conversely, they were becoming more disconnected and perpetuating their illnesses, which were being profited off of. I would rather be poor and create something medicinal for the spirit in the shape of art, and finish herbology school to also address the physical and mental aspects of humans. What brings me joy is the fact that when I put a pen or brush to a paper, scrape hides, take a photo, I am not thinking. I am in a complete state of meditation because I am present. It heals me, therefore, I am in my light. when I am in that state of love with life, I can do a lot more to help people. It’s a bonus when others are moved by the work. There are messages that I feel I need to bring forth to people, and on a good day, I’m able to express them through my art to a certain degree. What I’m trying to say is, this is a medicine, and for me it is a shamanistic act in the sense that it can bring the unconscious to the conscious. Whether or not others feel that way about it is beside the point. It is the process of the final product that enables me to continue.
If you want to contact Alexa about her art, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.