Pencil noir #5

ebola workers~

I want to understand my part is in this tragedy. I see these images every day…..the white suits, the latrine green or bubblegum pink plastic gloves.

I stare at the photo from NBC World News.  I’d googled face masks worn in epidemics after listening to an NPR broadcast about the Liberian aide workers who have taken the job of bringing in the dead. How does one comprehend such a thing?

I decided to draw one of the photos…to find the spaces between the forms…to make this intimate in some way. It becomes a meditation as I concentrate on the crisp plastic suits, the individual postures of the men, the dark slits behind the masks. I breath in, paying attention to the act of drawing what I see.

I breath out. I begin to feel I am breathing for the aide workers who are praying that they remain protected within those suits.

I breath in. I breath out. I feel as if I am breathing now for the ones in the bags. The ones who are no longer breathing. I breath to ease their passage in death. I breath for the loved ones, the children left behind. I keep breathing and concentrating.

I begin mixing the colors for the gloves. Zinc white, phthalo turquoise, a little Jenkins green. I’m almost finished. While applying the paint to the gloves, however,  I am overcome. I watch as all my own sorrows rise to the surface. I realize now that sorrow is simply sorrow.  I am unable to separate one sorrow from another.

But through this experience I have learned one personal way to be with what is happening in the world I live in and am a part of. Each moment as I breath in, as I breath out, life presents itself.  This becomes my prayer….my quiet revolution.


Here is the link to the NPR (National Public Radio) episode. It’s one of the more human articles and well worth a look.


25 responses

    • I don’t know Bonnie. I think about the way many women live today in this world and imagine what some would say reading this…”Oh, she breathes for us while she has the leisure to teach herself how to draw.” It would be a simple statement.

      In the broadest sense, though, I didn’t chose this life for myself any more than they chose theirs. And what am I to do with this leisure? This freedom? It’s a good question.

      As always Bonnie….xxoo


      • Ah, dear Jana, think of it as your lifework… something compelling that only you can achieve…a unique insight for humanity from the stores of your wisdom and capability. Now, that is unselfish … a boon I cannot imagine you withholding…not quite on a scale with Prometheus…but close. Smiles.


  1. At first reading I was stunned speechless by your insightful and masterful drawing and words, unable to imagine what I could possibly say. At second, third and fourth readings I began to open to your compassion and to the eternal paradox faced by the artist: how can I sit here in physical comfort creating images of unimaginable horrors happening ‘over there’, but, then again, how can I not?
    I admire so much what you have made here Jana, and how you have made it real with true, creative integrity. I am at one with everyone’s comments and your replies. While reading I was haunted by the images of Plague Masks I saw in Venice, the elongated beak, the soulless eye sockets.
    Thank you for this sensitive and powerful post, it brings what we wish to perceive as far away from our ‘safe’ lives into uncomfortable but necessary proximity.


    • You’ve pretty well summed up the process of working on this project, John and I truely thank you for this.

      But there’s something else as well, my friend, you haven’t mentioned….the uncomfortable feelings of being vulnerable and exposed posting this, without knowing exactly why. The determination was to not let it gain influence…but it was surely there. I think it is many faceted. Your last observation was a steadying hand reaching out…

      ” …it brings what we wish to perceive as far away from our ‘safe’ lives into uncomfortable but necessary proximity.”

      Being ‘open’ has many interesting parameters. Not least of which is to keep moving while making the most intimate and detailed choices … like a spider feeling its way in the dark. xxoo


  2. “An artist enters eagerly into the lives of people, of all men and women.
    He becomes all people in himself.
    The function of the artist is to disturb.
    His duty is to arouse the sleeper, to shake the complacent pillars of the world.
    He reminds the world of its dark ancestry, shows the world its present, and points the way to its new birth.
    He makes uneasy the static, the set, and the still.”

    Donald Brittain
    from his film, ‘Bethune.’


  3. Jana, this is… silently, staggeringly, fall quietly to your knees, dig your fingers into the earth and breathe… beautiful. And tragically human. Amazing piece of work. You make me want to dig out my pencils and look at the world.


    • I’ve thought of you and your family often this summer, Chris…out on the thin lines, making known, butting up against seeming impenetrability… “silently, staggeringly, fall quietly to your knees, dig your fingers into the earth and breathe… beautiful.” Kudos my friend…xxoo


  4. A beautiful, heartfelt piece. I was struck by what was communicated in your drawing– the first (from the left) with a head almost hung in defeat. Accepting their fate, perhaps. Overwhelmed, downtrodden somehow, the view of life’s majesty lost from view. The second has a look of wondering when his or her turn will come. It struck me as a fearful look, an uncertainty. Will the reaper’s lottery pick me? The third, looking sideways, seems to have a mechanical view of things. The circumstances have been reduced to procedures– the people to nouns in the protocol, himself or herself included. The dead and the white-suited figures have achieved an equality. They but occupy roles in the proceedings. It is almost a soldier’s view.

    They all resonate with me as universals, stances I’ve witnessed in the everyday in all sorts of situations and parts of the world. We’re all faced with this question of how to face the world’s tragedies head on, of how to become vessels of healing. Your prayer of quiet revolution was lovely. Thank you for this.



    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Michael. I responded in a similar way to the figures in this particular photo. Their body language translated such emotion despite being covered head to foot. I tried to imagine what it must be like physically in the heat and the circumstances.

      In the NPR piece I linked, it showed how they all say a prayer together before work. Makes you wonder…


    • Yes…we’ve played around so much with dystopian images in movies that it is a shocker to see the real thing. The figures in this particular photo were so expressive, Steven. The body postures….I can see why you think it looks like a sketch for a theater piece. Thanks for the encouragement with the drawing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I did this one after Ferguson
    It’s called roots
    It took me down a road to
    I believe each get touched in a special way
    And then we say or express our feelings
    It’s not easy to compare myself to what mite be going on else where
    But I do have the capability to express
    I love this one
    And your truth
    As always Sheldon

    Liked by 1 person

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