Do Not Be Afraid was both a series of works I undertook in 1997-98, and the title of an exhibition I had at the Bowmanville Art Gallery/Visual Arts Centre of Clarington with artist and art historian, Dominic Hardy in 1998. Here’s a polaroid of me and Dominic – taken, I think, by Margaret Rodgers, then Director.
Dominic and I had decided to have a joint exhibition based on our mutual interest in the theme of the angelic, the history of colonization, and the ways in which those things are inextricably linked, through the history of religion, yet neither one commensurate with the other.
My core works were:
1. a large pair of handmade “sails” (white cotton, jute, acrylic ink, 10×14′), hand-printed many hundreds of times with the phrase, “do not be afraid.” These were paired with a globe of the colonial world and were a reflection on the irony that just as angels in the bible almost always approach humans with these words, so did early colonizers, who claimed to bring civilization and salvation in their Christian outreach.
It was magical building this work, as the repeated effort of printing “do not be afraid” began to be a message to myself, at a time in my creative life when I needed some courage.
A detail of the “sails” or wings that I made for the exhibition. Hand-printed cotton with white acrylic ink, grommets, rigging rope, 10 x 16′. The words would only be visible if the cloth were lit from behind.
A view of the wings/sails in my studio, under construction.
3. Flight and fear took on another meaning in another mixed-media work, Learning to Fly (Icarus), made of a found, child’s rocking chair, two “wings” (wire and bandage gauze), and the blown-out shell of a quail’s egg, placed under the left runner. This piece invited the visitor to touch and engage with the work, but with the near-inevitable consequence of crushing the tiny egg.
I also included a work I had made two years prior. Mending Icarus’ Wing (1997) was a mixed-media sculpture of a wing, made of hand-cast paper feathers using cotton paper pulp, thread, found branches, and wire.
This wing hung above the empty shoes of my father, Antony Hammond, who had passed away in 1997. The wing took on various lives in a number of exhibitions and projects, but I believe that Do Not Be Afraid was the moment where this work had its best expression. I also write about making this wing in my book, Architects, Angels, Activists (Ashgate 2012).A short excerpt:
“I had two reasons for building a wing and that the first had to do with hope. Like Daedalus, I wanted an escape and I wanted to protect a family member, although in my case it was not an ocean of water that threatened the loved one, but the last months of a painful and incurable illness. Neither escape – mine nor my father’s – was possible. My fair-skinned, freckled father died of skin cancer. A little like Icarus, he had too much sun, too young. In the months before his death, the thousands of tiny stitches, the gentle feel of the soft, cotton-based paper and the slow working towards this ancient symbol of transcendence was an initiation, of sorts, into a time-honoured narrative of creativity, hope and loss …
Ritual, repetitive actions were the basis for the construction of my wing. The lengthy preparation of the paper pulp and plaster moulds, the slow casting and sewing of the long yellow feathers to their armature meant that the wing came into being painfully slowly and was visually awkward in the early weeks of its creation. At one point, a woman had told me that I was not building a wing, but mending it.” [p 32]