After finishing my Life Jackets project, I felt the pull to do a little painting again. During the months of making those jackets, I had done a lot of thinking about the unknown futures of individuals—now my thoughts turned to unknown pasts, especially relatives on my late father’s side. A genetic test revealed I was 6% black. Further research revealed I had ancestors who were free people of color who actually owned slaves themselves. Disturbing to say the least. A little research brought me to news that the remains of the last slave ship to reach America had been unearthed; this provided the inspiration for the painting “The Cotilda” which landed in Alabama in 1859.
Click here to watch “Life Jackets,” the 8-minute film by Pamela Beere Briggs & William McDonald featuring Suzanne’s recent project.
Twenty one years ago this month, a very bundled up baby was thrust into our arms in a tiny hotel room in Chengdu. After the Chinese adoption contingent left, we started to unbundle her because she seemed too warm. Garment after garment came off until we reached the last one…a beautiful, humbly made, and somewhat fragile jacket. Someone had really worked on this to make it useful, repairing it by hand over and over again. We brought it home with us.
I came across it a some months ago and an art project has grown out of it – exploring ideas about lost potential (all those kids who are still there, maybe working in factories and fields), about fate, randomness, and so on. With the encouragement of my teacher I have gone somewhat beyond my initial thought of making a few and I am over 100 now, all smaller than the original. I want them to look as old and worn as the original, but evoke the feeling of being worn by an individual whose life we know nothing about.
Pamela Beere Briggs and UCLA Professor William McDonald, filmmaking and life partners, decided to make a film about Suzanne’s new project “Life Jackets” when they saw a few of the jackets. They both believe that the world needs as many stories about people doing things out of love and looking at what connects us all as a community. “What we can do as filmmakers and storytellers is share stories about people who are actually doing things out of thoughtful kindness.”