by Imo Nse Imeh
The global pandemic of 2020 brought with it a unique set of circumstances that have altered the way we see the world around us. Nobody knew that our bustling world could grind to halt; none of us believed that the Earth could standstill. And so, in the face of such impossibilities becoming our new reality, we all waded into the troubling and dark waters of discovery, death, anxiety, loneliness, and so much loss.
It was in the context of the global pandemic that Feeding the Veins of the Earth was created. The profound sense of loss that so many in the world experienced was even more resonant for black people, who watched helplessly as their already perilous societal dilemmas—both social and economic—were exacerbated and then broadcast to the nation and the world.
While many people were emotionally moved and perhaps even distraught over the slayings of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, I and many black people were broken as a result of these horrific deaths—crippled and driven to our knees in despair. And while I was grateful for the advocacy around these tragedies, which came from people of all races and walks of life, I was equally horrified by very open demonstrations of apathy, and even fury, from many white people, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s gruesome murder, and the nationwide protests that ensued.
Personally, I suffered through a profound sense of loss and displacement—the loss of community and family; my displacement from a church community that had revealed itself to be largely indifferent to the suffering of my people; and the death of a dear friend to cancer, in the midst of a global plague that was as unmerciful as it was diabolical, denying me even the grace of hugging his expiring body goodbye.
The gracelessness and senselessness of it all demanded a witness. I needed God to know the depths of my heart, and the anguish that resided there. But, I wondered if my cries would even be heard. And so, I created this angel as an interceding figure, to bear witness to my sorrows, and the grief that was blanketing the world around me. In him I found solace and an understanding presence. But, I also unexpectedly located myself and my condition—and that made me feel less invisible, and somehow even worthy of being seen and heard.
Developing this painting and the others in the Benediction series has offered me an identity in the midst of the sudden turmoil around me. And beyond the gift of visibility, I now possess the hope of radiance, even in the midst of life’s darkest storms.
This past year, we purchased Dr. Imo Nse Imeh’s piece, “Feeding the Veins of the Earth (Grounded Angel),” which is part of his “Benediction” series. This group of paintings envisions angels sent to Earth to be bonded to the skins of Black men and boys to bear witness to their traumas, triumphs, and lived experiences. Imeh graciously volunteered to share his reflections on this work and the conditions that brought it to bear.
Details about our acquisition were recently featured in Westfield State University’s press release.
Imeh has spoken about this series at length in a video for Orion Magazine. You can also read the poem that accompanies “Feeding the Veins of the Earth (Grounded Angel)” here.