September 25, 2018
The novel “The Bluest Eye” is set in Lorain, Ohio, the hometown of author Toni Morrison. Cleveland-based artist Amanda King used the book as a springboard for a public art installment on the east side, in the Buckeye neighborhood.
The passage that inspired artist Amanda King features a young black girl planting marigolds to symbolize hope. But the marigolds fail to bloom, and Morrison writes: “I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers.”
“I found this to be more of a metaphor for the environment across the America in which black people living in urban environments, we’re very hostile to them,” King said. “I really thought that passage hit Buckeye on the head. And I thought that people like the Arrington-Byrd-Moss family, they’re resilient and they fight through it, but they’re still fragile, and I wanted to portray that in the images.”
King photographed three generations of that Buckeye neighborhood family. Matriarch Patricia Crawford says the neighborhood has changed a lot in the decades she’s lived in the area.
“I remember when I first moved in this neighborhood, there was a clay shop. There was a pizza shop here, there was a haircare place, but there’s always a haircare place in the black neighborhood,” Crawford said. “And then people moved out, and I would like for them to come back… I don’t know what we could do as a group, as a neighborhood to bring more businesses here.”
She raised her four children Dawn, Juliett, and Melissa and Ronald in the area. All four still live here, and Ronald and Dawn now have children of their own.
Dawn Arrington hopes her kids leave the neighborhood one day to experience the world, but always have a sense of home.
“Raising kids here, this is the only place that they’ve known. This is their home. I hope, I hope, I hope that as they get older, there’s an appreciation for us trying to make our home here, an dtrying to give them some of the, I guess, cultural aspects that I had growing up. You know, front porches and neighbors waving at each other,” Arrington said. “It’s not perfect here, but it’s ours, and we protect it fiercely.”
The Buckeye neighborhood is part of the larger Buckeye-Shaker Square District, which was once known as “Little Hungary” because of how many Hungarian immigrants settled there, beginning in the late 19th century. But as that population aged and more African Americans moved in, the shifting demographics led to racial tensions. By 2000, the neighborhood was more than 90 percent African American, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History from Case Western Reserve University.
In recent years, the neighborhood’s businesses have dwindled, and the amount of crime has gone up. Patricia’s friends ask her how she can feel safe walking down the street, yet Patricia and her daughter say with some effort, the neighborhood can be more than the hostile environment it perhaps parallels in Morrison’s novel.
“This is the fertile land right here, we just have to work it so it can come back so the marigolds can grow here. My children are the marigolds, I’m a marigold. We need to work it so this can come back,” Crawford said.
“Marigolds are really resilient flowers, and they almost grow, like, anywhere. And so this project became a celebration of us growing, even in not idealistic conditions,” Arrington said.
Amanda King carefully chose the background—the color of marigolds—and items in her photographs to symbolize life in Buckeye for black families.
“Flowers are delicate, and I definitely wanted to make that prominent in the photos. But then I see someone like Dawn, who is just—her body language is just confident. Those shoulders are up, those feet are forward, and she’s like, ‘I’m here,’” King described. “You know there’s moments where I’m sure she does feel fragile. Any black person in America feels vulnerable to the hostile environment, back to the Morrison passage. And so I wanted to juxtapose the two.”
People walking on Buckeye Road at 130th Street can see the art installation, which is the first from Inner City Hues. That project was developed this year and aims to bring murals and public art to the people of Buckeye-Shaker and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods, known more for abandoned storefronts than artwork.
King says the project is an opportunity to take her art out of a traditional gallery and into the community.
“We need to see representations of our own community members up on storefronts like this,” King said.
Juliett Moss says she would like to see more businesses in the neighborhood, the way it was when she was younger.
“People go, people come, but it’s like, the one thing about Buckeye is for some reason it just connects people. Everyone has that one common thing and it’s Buckeye,” Moss said.
The photographs, a poignant representation of a family and their city neighborhood, show that everyone sees the world a bit differently.
Author: Lisa Ryan