I was fortunate enough to visit New York a few Years ago, and spent a deal of time in a small amazing park near where I was staying, Bryant Park, where I would sit and people watch, which is one of my favourite things to do. I know I am not the only one fascinated by people, and we learn a lot about human beings by slowly observing them, not a quick glance, but drinking in everything about them.
One day , I saw a young person, maybe 16 years old, and he was with what appeared to be his mom. He was dressed as a 'goth' and had on these amazing DM boots which looked like they had been hand painted with amazing colours and patterns. I was admiring his boots as he walked past, so was a little alarmed when his mom turned back and started shouting at me. Yes he’s different, and how dare you sit there smirking at him, he can dress how he wants! She used a lot more colourful language than that but you get the gist! He stood embarrassed, hanging his head, then she strode off really quickly with him. I got the impression this might not be the first time this had happened.
The sad thing is I thought he looked amazing, and I really regret not having said so. I genuinely wasn’t smirking , I was in awe of those boots! I was with my daughter Rosie and she had been thinking the exact same thing as me! The second sad thing is that it happened so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to tell this women how amazing I thought he looked. She perhaps wrongly thought I was judging him as I have a resting bitch face that would curdle milk (you know, one of those where people always tell you to cheer up when inside you are really deliriously happy!)
Here is my take on the situation- she was making a snap judgement about me as a person without knowing the facts. I am drawn to people who talk their own talk and walk their own walk in life, those of us who subvert stereotypical norms but she wouldn’t necessarily know that in the briefness of our encounter. I also think that her comments said a lot about her, I felt she wasn’t relaxed in his company , in fact was made distinctly uncomfortable by people looking at him. And she felt the need to defend him, even though there was nothing to defend! Maybe I am wrong, I am after all making assumptions. Also I can only imagine how the guy felt in this whole encounter.
This is not dissimilar to an encounter I read about on Instagram recently by the wonderful artist Rachel House, who mentioned being approached in a gallery by someone assuming she would be in agreement with their anti-trans views perhaps , she thought , because of her age. Thereby being subjected to ill-defined and random generalisation. She has taken to wearing badges that are indicative of her views on supporting trans rights more frequently!
I think the lesson to be learnt is not to be so quick to make assumptions about others. We all carry unconscious bias, that is the nature of humans, which is directly related to the society we live in and historical experiences we have had. But by widening our experiences , we can alter our biases. Making an effort to spend time with someone who is older, or younger, someone with different beliefs, someone from a different socio economic background, or someone with a different sexuality and/or gender to us. That is how we learn about and understand others and change our bias.
Much of my work is based on stopping being so judgemental. We also need to stop being judgemental of ourselves. To be less concerned with others opinions of us and be happy with who we are. I made this work about that very subject. It is purple velvet stretched on canvas , with a collage of screen printed fabric stitched to the canvas. Both arms signal stop, but one is a way from the self and the other is towards the self.
On that happy note, I’m off to get my DM’s on , did I hear someone say ‘age appropriate’? Who cares?!!
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