As you are all aware, in addition to the ongoing pandemic, our culture is also undergoing another transformative period as it relates to our willingness to confront the hate that exists in our society. The MH company does not typically make public statements on political or social issues. After reflection and numerous discussions, I concluded this situation calls for a different approach. In these times, silence can be mistaken for consent and at MH we do not consent to racism or discrimination.
We all, at Michael Harding, want to express our profound sadness at the tragedy we all are experiencing. We stand in solidarity with those looking to erase hate, discrimination and racism. Black Lives Matter.
At MH, we feel strongly that diversity and inclusion are critical aspects of who we are. We are committed to continuing to serve all our artist customers and employees with the same equal kindness and support, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or orientation. At the same time, we know we must always continue to challenge ourselves to listen, learn and do even more.
We will continue to educate ourselves and others and actively contribute to making our society and world a better place. This involves sharing the stories of the people close to us that have been impacted throughout their lives but the systematic oppression many of us might not be aware of.
Here is a story of a dear friend of mine, Ricky Mujica. Ricky is a wonderful man. Five minutes of conversation with him will show his heart is full of love and compassion, this is reflected in his warm smile. When the BLM movement hit the headlines, I, like many, tried to find a way to show my support and condemnation of what I believe to be a disease. I didn’t want to have a long list of statements, I decide that perhaps on this occasion less would be more and asked Ricky to tell a story or two of the discrimination he was subjected to growing up as a young Caribbean artist in New York City in the 60’&70’s. As if trying to make it as an artist wasn’t hard enough.
My night at the Precinct for “stealing” my own paintings by Ricky Mujica
It was my last run of the day, and I had to get them home. I had five large paintings I painted during my Freshman Year at Parsons School of Design, an art school situated in Manhattan’s affluent West Village and not far from the NYU Campus.
I had spent the whole day clearing out my locker and taking home my paintings. I had started at 9 am, attending my last class where we had a party, and then had been riding back and forth between the West Village and Harlem, where I lived, all day long bringing everything that
belonged to me, home. Finally, I was taking home my last batch of paintings and was exhausted.
The city was dark as it was already after 9 pm. I had saved the largest paintings for last and began the trek back to Harlem with them as the school doors closed behind me. With me, was my best friend, at the time, David Panton, who was also a painter and a very, very good one. We had both been painting in the classical tradition since we were 15 years old under the tutelage of Max Ginsburg and Irwin Greenberg at the High School of Art and Design. Our paintings looked like they were done in another century, especially in the artistic climate of the 1970s where there was very little traditional realist painting happening anywhere.
David, who unfortunately passed away by suicide over a decade ago, was a tall, handsome Black teen with a small afro, and I was a young Dominican teenager with a big afro. We were carrying about a dozen of our own traditional paintings between us, many of which were nudes,
down the street at night in New York’s, mostly white West Village.
As we passed a red brownstone heading west between 6th and 7th ave, we noticed a police car had stopped on the street and the two officers sitting in the vehicle were staring at us. I remember having the feeling of danger that came from the fear of police those of us who grew up in the
poor neighbourhoods of colour in the inner city understood.
As we walked, David and I got quiet, fully aware that we were being watched, and somehow, though we had done nothing wrong, feeling guilty of something. When we passed the car, the officers got out and started to walk towards us.
“What you got there?” Said the big burly officer who was closest to us.
I responded as friendly and as subserviently as possible, in a tone that many of the people I grew up with developed when dealing with the police. It’s a tone I still habitually use when stopped by police,
“We’re just taking our paintings home, sir.” We had learned that life in New York for us, meant that we had to be as polite as possible to the
police, especially at night. Most of them were really nice guys, but every once in a while, you came across one or two who weren’t so nice. I could tell this was one of those. “We had reports of robberies in the neighbourhood, and we are just checking,” said the big burly
officer who seemed to have a severe case of rosacea.
Funny the things that go through your mind. I remember thinking about how I could get that colour using Alizarin Crimson and Naples Yellow.
I nervously turned my painting around to show him, and he said, incredulously, “You did those?”
The other officer who was much smaller and had stayed back, and silent until now said, “I thought you people only did Graffiti!”
On a funny side note, as racist as that sounds now, it was not uncommon for people to say that to me in those days as Graffiti was just beginning to be taken seriously as an exciting new art form originating in New York City. On many occasions, when I would tell people I was an artist,
they would get excited and ask to see my paintings. When I showed them, I would often see and hear their surprise. Swiftly followed by a comment like, “Oh! You do that old stuff? Don’t you do Graffiti?”
The police asked us for ID, but we had none. In those days, no one carried ID, I didn’t even have my school ID. All David and I had on us was $.50 apiece to get home on the subway. This made it look even worse when the police frisked us and found that we had nothing else on us
except those $.50. Surely we couldn’t have done these paintings, “these look too expensive, we must have gotten them from somewhere.”
I told them that the guard at the school would vouch for us and we were only a block away, and that would prove these were our paintings. Unfortunately, by this time, the school was closed
and locked. This made us really look bad. So the large officer said, “we’re going to have to take you in until we can check out your story.”
He made sure we knew we weren’t under arrest, but they were only, “checking out our story,” and he took us to Manhattan’s 6th Precinct.
When we got there, the officer at the desk tried to call my mother and David’s grandmother, who he lived with. But in those days, there were no answering machines. My mother never answered the phone after 9 pm, and David’s grandmother wasn’t answering either. It never occurred to them or us that maybe we could prove we were artists by drawing for them. But in hindsight, we were cautious with what we said and how we behaved because we didn’t want to make the situation worse and we didn’t feel like we were in friendly territory. So we stayed quiet.
We spent the night on the bench in the precinct lobby, while they stored our paintings behind the Sargent’s desk. It was quite a night.
In the morning, they finally contacted David’s grandmother, who made the trek down from Queens with David’s school ID to vouch for us. They released us without an apology, and we walked to the train station as the sun was still rising. We were exhausted. The really funny thing
is that we weren’t mad or even upset. We didn’t even realize how racist and unfair our treatment had been until we started telling people the story. I think this was partly because as inner-city people of colour, we had grown accustomed to this kind of treatment by the police and it had been normalized for us. In fact, we felt lucky that we were able to return home in the morning.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this message. We urge you to encourage others and yourself to take a hard look in your own heart, I think if we are all honest, we are all from time to time guilty of discrimination. Even jumping to a quick conclusion about someone based on our previous experiences and stereotyping of people is discrimination. Perhaps we should go into the next day with our hearts a little more open and more inclined to be generous with our compassion, not our discrimination.
Discrimination comes in many forms – be it against race or colour, belief, age, gender, health, height, looks, social-economic background, sports team supported, school background and more.
This is an ongoing battle, one that cannot be won in a day, but we urge you to please join us in this fight for equality and unity. Below are links to further resources and ways that you can help to make a difference.