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Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 7: My Dearest Aiyana (Spring 2018)
About the contributors:
Daniil Davydoff is manager of global security intelligence at AT-RISK International and director of social media for the World Affairs Council of Palm Beach. His writings on security and international affairs have been published by ASIS International, Security Magazine, Risk Management Magazine, The National Interest, the Tehran Times, Foreign Policy, and RealClearWorld, among other outlets.
Naima Green is a Brooklyn-based artist and educator interested in teasing the boundaries of intimacy, urban ecology, and the construction of home.
Tuan Andrew Nguyen uses his artistic practice to find god. He initiated an artist collective called The Propeller Group to uncover the devil.
I’d like you to think about this book’s cover as the arms of someone and they are hugging the contents inside, which are some of the most precious things in the world.
The cover of this book starts with an idea of landscape, which was a protector to me when I was a child. I remember seeing El Capitan in Yosemite and thinking it was there to protect the forest. I remember seeing landscape paintings from the Western Expansion and thinking that these places were for me to be safe. But in my adulthood, I think of landscape as more of a force which could either protect or kill me. While I can blissfully inhale the sky of Sanford Robinson Gifford’s painting A Gorge in the Mountains, I see an absence of humans and a land to be taken. While I could imagine what the foods taste like in Édouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass, I doubt people of color would have been invited to such an affair, or if a person of color could occupy the landscape in such a way and in such a time.
This is partly why I have been drawn to Naima Green’s ongoing project Jewels from the Hinterland where she photographs black people in landscapes as a way to make them the center focus. The cover of this Martha’s Quarterly features Brian, and when I look at this image, I wonder about Brian as an individual but also as a representation of the Black male. In recent years, the impulse to depict Black men in more nuanced and complicated ways is one form of response to the reckless of treatment of black bodies ranging from racist 911 calls to needless gun violence. Ms. Green’s portrait performs a resistance and renewal of such gazes upon black male bodies.
And then resistance does not work. Possibility to renew is bleak, because no matter how many artworks are created, marches take place, or phone calls made to one’s representatives, a person can still snap and kill many people in a matter of seconds.
“What makes a person snap?” is what I asked Daniil Davydoff after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting where 17 people were killed in 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Mr. Davydoff is a risk intelligence analyst responsible for creating strategies to prevent such incidents like this school shooting. After you open the book armored with Ms. Green’s photograph, you can read Mr. Davydoff’s essay, an expansive illustration of the environment which contributes to the “pathway to violence.” That said, Mr. Davydoff speaks to the impossibility of completely preventing such heinous violence because the mind – once set – can be extraordinarily creative.
The other day, I heard from an architect who is designing an extension to an elite private school that a difficult problem for him to design was the building’s glass windows. There was an incident years ago where a male teacher sexually harassed a student, so the new design needed to include classrooms surrounded by glass. However, these same transparent classrooms needed to also be quickly veiled in the case of a school shooting. This is a disheartening design problem. How do we protect children?
Mr. Davydoff’s writing opens up to an envelope which encloses a letter that the artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen writes to his beautiful baby daughter Aiyana. I asked Mr. Nguyen, “What does it mean to be her father?” His letter travels through time and speaks of his fatherhood and his masculinity as a layered history of war, diaspora, and male expectations. Mr. Nguyen makes no secret about the powers of myth and human mortality to his daughter who will grow up in the shadow of an unprecedented number of mass shootings in America.
A wilted American rose arches over Mr. Davydoff’s writing and a thicket of them hug the back of Mr. Nguyen’s letter. Such is the myth of roses, which President Ronald Reagan declared was the flower of the United States on November 20, 1986:
Americans have always loved the flowers with which God decorates our land. More often than any other flower, we hold the rose dear as the symbol of life and love and devotion, of beauty and eternity. For the love of man and woman, for the love of mankind and God, for the love of country, Americans who would speak the language of the heart do so with a rose.
We see proofs of this everywhere. The study of fossils reveals that the rose has existed in America for age upon age. We have always cultivated roses in our gardens. Our first President, George Washington, bred roses, and a variety he named after his mother is still grown today. The White House itself boasts a beautiful Rose Garden. We grow roses in all our fifty States. We find roses throughout our art, music, and literature. We decorate our celebrations and parades with roses. Most of all, we present roses to those we love, and we lavish them on our altars, our civil shrines, and the final resting places of our honored dead.
The American people have long held a special place in their hearts for roses. Let us continue to cherish them, to honor the love and devotion they represent, and to bestow them on all we love just as God has bestowed them on us.
Roses have been laid on the dead bodies of Black male victims, as they have been laid on all of the slain from the Stoneman Douglas shooting. One day a rose will be given to Aiyana. All these roses from the American landscape. Such is the myth of landscape, men, and manifest destiny.
— Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief