Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Being an ally is scary. / Être allié fait peur.

2017 . 04 . 28 - Comments / Commentaires (10)

Admitting the fear is the first step in getting over it.

Il faut admettre sa peur pour pouvoir la surmonter.

In this video from a few years back, I talk about fear and how it relates to copyright, but I also explain something that bell hooks taught me, which is that getting over fear doesn’t require courage. It requires love.

Dans cette vidéo que j’ai filmé il y a quelques années, je parle de la peur et de ce qu’elle a à voir avec le droit d’auteur, mais j’explique aussi quelque chose que bell hooks m’a appris. Le fait qu’on n’a pas besoin de courage pour se débarrasser de la peur; on a besoin de l’amour.

black women in love

Gwenn Seemel
Love (Blue and Molly standing out) / L’amour (Blue et Molly qui se vante)
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué / acrylique sur coton piqué
18 inches in diameter / 46 centimètres de diamètre
(detail below / détail plus bas)


Empathetic Magic opens on June 10th at the MT Burton Gallery in New Jersey. I’m blogging about the series as I make it here.

La magie empathique commence le 10 juin à la MT Burton Gallery dans le New Jersey. Je parle de la réalisation de la collection sur mon blog ici.

- Winning a battle
- Unfortunately titled
- Free speech / La liberté d’expression

- Un titre regrettable
- Stopping racist or sexist behavior / Arrêter les comportements racistes ou sexistes
- Being a partner / Être partenaire

CATEGORIES: - English - Français - Empathetic Magic - Feminism - Philosophy - Portraiture - Process images - Video -

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(10) Comments / Commentaires: Being an ally is scary. / Être allié fait peur.

-- libby fife -- 2017 . 04 . 28 --


I have looked at this portrait a few times now. Whatever you did, you captured perfectly the idea of total love, devotion, affection and commitment that these two people share. That is the best way I can describe it and maybe it’s the positioning of their faces, or whatever, it totally works.

I suspect there are many reasons why people don’t want to talk about any number of -isms. Fear is probably high up there. It would be nice to be able to find out from people directly just why they shy away from an in depth discussion. And I see why you edited the title. I would have done so too without any guilt.

Another good post. Thank you!

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 04 . 28 --

@Libby: I think I got really lucky with this piece. I say that because I got really lucky with the subjects. We became friends and I think that’s part of why I got to see this moment and so was able to paint it.

As for the reasons, when I ask people, it’s often what I said in the video. They worry about appropriation or about being the privileged voice that doesn’t listen well enough. They also worry about saying the wrong thing. In a sense, they are afraid of the groups they would be trying to help. So it’s fear of the oppressed or fear of the oppressors that stops people. That’s how I see it, anyway. And how I experience it. Because I definitely feel both the fears…

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-- Linda Ursin -- 2017 . 04 . 28 --

I stand up and speak my mind without fear. I’m both white and well educated, although not able-bodied anymore. I don’t feel like I’m appropriating their struggle. I feel like I’m shining a light on an issue. I’m stating my values and how I feel things should be. That being different is ok. I also teach my child that and I hope others do too, to make for a better world for her generation.

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 04 . 28 --

@Linda: I’m glad you do! I wish more white people would do it! Unfortunately, I know a lot who don’t. :(

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-- Linda Ursin -- 2017 . 04 . 28 --

@Gwenn I know of a lot who don’t do it too. Fortunately, I live in a part of the world where it’s safe to speak up, and even encouraged. So there are quite a few who do here, despite the masses who don’t.

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-- Carrie -- 2017 . 05 . 01 --

Thank you for your honesty Gwenn. I feel that fear, too.

I also wonder if I constantly “take a stand” does it do anything to change minds?

I’m curious in engaging in conversations where I adamantly disagree with people, but where I can listen and try (even in the smallest of ways) to understand where their opinion comes from, can they then listen a little bit more to me?

The polarity I see frightens me, and creates more hate and fear. I see this vividly in portrayals of muslims (after living in the ME for 9 years as a Christian-raised American) and yet, I also don’t want to be moral relativist and excuse or condone behavior I don’t agree with…

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 05 . 02 --

@Carrie: I hear you. For my part, I try to focus on just shifting people’s ideas of what they can get away with. That sounds childish, I know, but it adds up. For example, my father used to say sexist and homophobic stuff around me all the time, but I called him on it so much that he stopped saying it around me—even though he still says some of it around my mom. It’s a small shift, but the less reinforcement for the crappy things he says (even if it’s just silent consent) the more he understands that there is something wrong with what he’s saying.

I get that it can backfire too. That sexists and homophobes and others can feel so oppressed by not being allowed to say or do horrible things that they can erupt in hugely damaging ways. But, in my experience, like with my father for example, there are plenty of people who won’t do that. In this video, I talk about using a specific form of communication to point out offensive language without amping up emotions.

In then end, I think it’s important to choose one’s battles. For example, I don’t engage with the truly hateful people—the kind of people who leave lewd and violent comments on my YouTube channel. I don’t view them as people I can reach, so I don’t bother to engage.

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-- Carrie -- 2017 . 05 . 02 --

Thanks Gwenn - the video you suggested holds great advice. I appreciate this conversation. I wish more people were having it.

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-- Shannon M Hicks -- 2017 . 06 . 07 --

This is a stunning painting, Gwenn. It is so full of emotion and love.  This may be my favorite of the series. <3

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 06 . 08 --

@Shannon: It might be my favorite too. smile Thank you!

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