A Durham painting event and conversation explores the gift and the curse of being an "independent woman" | Arts

A Durham painting event and conversation explores the gift and the curse of being an "independent woman"


A Thousand Words: The Gift and the Curse
The Palace International, Durham
Saturday, March 28, 6 p.m.

  • photo by Leah Montgomery
At the Palace International African restaurant in Durham, about 20 black and Latina women sat in an intimate circle with colorful strips of paper in their laps. Hidden on the underside of each paper was a single statement. "Independent women have attitudes. Independent women are lonely. Independent women are afraid to ask for help." Going around the circle, each woman introduced herself and told the group her hometown and a little-known fact about herself before proceeding to read her statement. In honor of Women’s History Month, the event was designed to create open conversation among women about independence in intimate relationships, and to channel it into their artwork.

The event was called A Thousand Words, a monthly conversation series hosted by Ja'Nell Henry of J. Cardinal Events. After much quarreling and coming to consensus between the women, a decision was made about how each statement applied to our lives. Is it a gift or is it a curse? The moderator, Alicia Andrews, jotted down key words from each statement on white posters. One was labeled "Gift" and the other was labeled "Curse." By the time all statements were read and everyone had poured out their hearts in conversations on life, love and what it means to be an independent woman, there was much debate over whether some statements had a place in both categories.

Local artist Candy Carver leads the painting exercise. - PHOTO BY LEAH MONTGOMERY
  • photo by Leah Montgomery
  • Local artist Candy Carver leads the painting exercise.
Local artist Candy Carver took hold of the conversation. She invited us to tables where pre-stretched canvases were propped next to paint brushes and paper plates. Each person picked a seat behind a canvas as Carver drew our attention to a recent painting of hers. In its center was the silhouette of a woman's face and neck. Her hair curled defiantly about her face and strutted out to the edges of the canvas. The swoop over her eyes was painted solid in black and blue, but the curls were streaked in red, blue, yellow, orange and a mirage of other colors.

In my interpretation, she was what we all are (at least, those in attendance that day, save for the one male): Woman. Her lips, closed, hinted at her choice to remain quiet. The swoop of hair over her eyes was her protection from the things she consciously chose not to acknowledge. The stark black was her solidity, her integrity. The deep blue was her flexibility, her elasticity and her understanding. And the colorfully streaked curls that went on and on were her never-ending thoughts. They were her ideas, her passions, her needs, her sorrows, her love, her anger, her animosity, her definitions of the things that make her who she is. Her independent self defined yet, somehow, undefined through the painting. Whether those dimensions were gifts or curses was open to interpretation.

Finished painting by Leah Montgomery - PHOTO BY LEAH MONTGOMERY
  • photo by Leah Montgomery
  • Finished painting by Leah Montgomery
After Carver gave a quick lesson on how to sketch the head, face and hair of the woman, we began painting. Everyone painted the swoop black and blue and outlined the hair and face in blue. The background was also like us—black. Those similarities gave us common ground as a gender and as people of color. Then, Carver did something we were all secretly waiting for; she let us go.

She directed us to a table at the back of the room that was covered in dozens of acrylic paints. We were allowed to paint her however we chose, and most likely in our own image. Since I don’t think of my life as having very many boundaries, and my ideas and talents overlap in so many ways, I just painted. Greens, yellows, reds, pinks, oranges, purples, and blues bled into each other. Some places were heavily layered and other places were shallower. Some places were brightly streaked and other places were funky muddles of three or four colors. It was just like me—everywhere, yet in one place.

Other than being inspired by myself, I was probably also inspired by the delicious curry chicken with cabbage, rice and sweet fried plantains that I ordered from The Palace International upstairs. The curry was tantalizing and the plantains, succulent; not to mention the substantial portion size. The flavorful food and the colorful paintings were perfect accessories for the brick walls and black floors of the large basement that served as the evening’s venue. My muse was allowed some fluidity thanks to the three glasses of wine I had for $2 a glass, courtesy of J. Cardinal, who sponsored the evening’s events.

  • photo by Leah Montgomery
Candy Carver will be hosting her quarterly “Paint Durm” event on April 18th at Letters Bookshop, located at 313 W. Main St. in Durham, where Carver will be displaying her latest artwork. There will also be live music, snacks and food trucks on site. Don't miss it. Whether you have an attitude, or you’re lonely, or you’re too damn proud to ask for help, you can always find an outlet in good conversation, good food and meaningful art.

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