The artist releases a body of work that intends to heal the state of our world through gift and stillness.
“Do nothing without intention” is my favorite Solange line. “The healing process of a wound” is my favorite definition of intention. There’s power in moving intentionally. It is the highest connection to source, it forces you to look inwardly and determine exactly how you connect your gift to your ask, your why to your goal. It is the first touch-point for executing a plan and it forges a clear path to an achievement. Beyond introspective, intention is meditative, and Maachew Bentley’s Return The World is a perfect reflection of the many characteristics that define intention.
Three years ago Maachew shoots a body of work that portrays a black man at peace. Despite wearing camouflage pants, a military vest, and what appears to be combat boots, the muse is undoubtedly soft. A black man surrounded by the beauty and stillness of nature, not in contrast to it, but in perfect harmony with it.
As I was writing this article, I decided to test a hypothesis: Are there many images of black men at peace?
When searching “peaceful black man” on Google I found a mix of protest images, large groups of police gatherings, and black lives matter graphics sprinkled with a few stock images of black men flashing the peace sign. When searching “peaceful man” on Google, the results are vastly different, showcasing mostly white men in yogi poses surrounded by nature. What does this say about the visual culture around the black male body? According to Cassandra Jackson’s Violence, Visual Culture, and the Black Male Body, the image of wounded black men satisfies certain broader cultural desires and is the product of years of conditioning and implicit bias. “Jackson considers how these images represent a ‘locus of overlapping cultural desires, psychic needs, traumatic memories, and commercial interests’. She is also concerned with how an examination of these images of wounding and the act of witnessing these images offers insight into the ‘complex intersections between patriarchy and race'”.
Furthermore by “focusing primarily on photographic images, Jackson explores the wound as a specular moment that mediates power relations between seers and the seen. Historically, the representation of wounded black men has privileged the viewer in service of white supremacist thought. At the same time, contemporary artists have deployed the figure to expose and disrupt this very power paradigm. Jackson suggests that the relationship between the viewer and the viewed is not so much static as fluid, and that wounds serve as intricate negotiations of power structures that cannot always be simplified into the condensed narratives of victims and victimizers. Overall, Jackson attempts to address both the ways in which the wound has been exploited to patrol and contain black masculinity, as well as the ways in which twentieth century artists have represented the wound to disrupt its oppressive implications.”
The project is about repair and elevation in the wake of our seeming perpetual trauma, replacing bombs with books and blossoming release of transcendental energy. In the video we offer tribute to the mother earth/gaia/sophia as we release the flowers in the river stream to germinate a familiar yet growing reverent force.– Maachew Bentley
Three years later, in the current political discussion of racism in America, Maachew Bentley’s Return The World would have to be called relevant, poignant, and even otherworldly. The depiction of a black man staring at his reflection in a pool of water, a specular act, dressed in yellow and white flowers, parallels in many ways the myth of Narcissus, a hunter who was known for his beauty and was so taken by it that he ends up falling in love with himself. Unable to leave the allure of his image, he eventually melts away from the fire of passion burning inside him. Immortality, at least of a kind, was assured, though, when his corpse (or in some versions the blood from his self-inflicted stab wound) turned into the flowers which, thereafter, bore his name.
The Latin name for daffodil is Narcissus, a flower assigned to symbolize re-birth and new beginnings because it is one of the first perennials to bloom after the winter frost. Although daffodils grow in shades of white and orange, they are best known for their yellow hues.
As part of the project, Maachew includes video that features the protagonist, Lou Diamond, gifting the yellow flowers back to their original environment, and in a way back to themselves. What he describes as a:
Shaman ritual foreshadowing the need to get in tune with earth and the divine feminine.Lou Diamond
The music score, also produced by Maachew, functions as a guided meditation. Science has found that certain sound frequencies correspond with healing properties. This works through the concept of resonance – in the presence of a certain frequency the body acclimates.
In his book, The Gift: How The Creative Spirit Transforms the World, Lewis Hyde examines the importance of gifts, their flow and movement and the value of creativity in a culture increasingly governed by money. One excerpt from this tome may serve as a way of explaining Lou’s ritual:
“The Maori [native tribes of New Zealand] have a word, hau, which translates as “spirit,” particularly the spirit of the gift and the spirit of the forest which gives food. In these tribes, when hunters return from the forest with birds they have killed, they give a portion of the kill to the priests, who, in turn, cook the birds at a sacred fire. The priests eat a few of them and the prepare a sort of talisman, the mauri, which is the physical embodiment of the forest hau. This mauri is a gift the priests give back to the forest, where, as a Maori sage once explained to an Englishman, it ’causes the birds to be abundant…, that they may be slain and taken by man.’ There are three gifts in this hunting ritual: the forest gives to the hunters, the hunters to the priests, and the priests to the forest. At the end, the gift moves from the third party back to the first. The ceremony that the priests perform is called whangai hau, which means “nourishing hau” feeding the spirit.”
Not only is the ritual an offering back to spirit, but to futher the practice Maachew is donating 18% of profits made from the sale of this release to Outdoor Afro, an organization that celebrates & inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.
Do nothing without intention.