When Beverly Whiteside arrived at the Near East Side home of the late Aminah Robinson to begin a months-long artist residency in early January, she carried with her a bouquet of flowers and a handful of questions.
“When I came in today, I said, ‘What am I going to say? What am I going to give back? What am I going to leave?” Whiteside said in January, seated at the dining room table in Robinson's home, upon which she had placed the flowers in a vase.
In the months since, Whiteside has continued these offerings, refreshing the bouquet on a weekly basis. During an early April visit, in the final days of the artist's residency, the vase bloomed with a half dozen gleaming white flowers. “I know Aminah’s not here physically, but she is spiritually, so every week I bring her flowers to honor her,” Whiteside said. “My thing was to always honor the space. And not one day I was here did I take it for granted.”
During the early weeks of the residency, Whiteside said she would spend most of her time in quiet reflection, trying to get a sense of the lighting, the feel and the spirit of each room. Though Whiteside said the house initially appeared from the outside as though it might be dark within, she quickly learned that the large glass block windows in the dining room allowed the sun’s light “to ebb and flow through the space like water,” giving a soft, warm glow to the interior.
“I feel like Aminah welcomed the light naturally into the space, and she didn’t force it,” Whiteside said. “And we as humans, also let light in sometimes. Positive things and light can beam from us without forcing it, just by being who you are and trying to be positive in this world.”
Whiteside struggled with this idea at times throughout the residency, which coincided with a difficult personal stretch for the artist. At times, she said, she would decamp to the house but find herself unable to work, her spirits weighed down by the sometimes-heavy emotional baggage she would occasionally find herself lugging into the space.
“My heart could be so heavy coming in here that my feet could barely move,” said Whiteside. “Artists, we’re hands and heart, but sometimes the heart is so heavy, burdened and broken. … When you talk about art, and I think people forget this, you’re talking about people who continue to struggle through many pains. It’s always there. It’s always with you. You’re always renewing it in your mind with your work. … I want to make a difference, and I want to give, but I’m not always there to give.”
Gradually, though, Whiteside made headway on a couple of pieces, including one still-in-progress work assembled from fabric scraps collected by Robinson and depicting the figures of three women who can be seen holding flowers aloft like torches. Whiteside intends to complete the piece for a 2024 exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art, where it will feature alongside art created by prior Aminah Robinson fellows.
Indeed, it’s this growing roster of fellows, including and , among others, from which Whiteside pulled strength and serenity during her final weeks in the house. In our April interview, she recounted hosting a late March reception for these past fellows in Robinson’s home, which served as a needed connector for the artists, all of whom worked in isolation during the residency, cut off from the larger community of which they were now part.
“When new people come in, I think that’s what they need: The embrace of the people who have gone down the same road,” Whiteside said. “We shouldn’t be individual artists coming in here. No, we come in as a community, as an extended family.”
This is a concept Duarte explored during the three months he spent creating in Robinson’s house last year, a time in which he began to envision our lives as unrolling balls of yarn that can become entwined as we forge new bonds. “The life we’re given unravels like the yarn and it spreads all over places and it ties us together and it’s woven into crochets,” he said in 2022. “It’s the whole story unfolding, and we weave like a spider, weaving each other into and out of these narratives.”
In the course of the March reception, the gathered artists shared the initial apprehensions they felt stepping alone into the space – both Brown and Whiteside kicked off their respective residencies beset by uncertainty on how to move forward – along with the myriad ways they had been subtly changed by the time.
“It was a transformational experience, and not just the physical art but the emotional part of it, as well,” said Whiteside, who in the last three months gained a greater understanding of the need to give herself time and space for healing. “The work that I did here was not as much as I wanted to do, but now I feel okay about it. I didn’t fight anymore. I didn’t fight my heart. I didn’t fight my feelings. I kind of said, ‘Maybe it’s time to let go a little bit.’ … My hands had ideas, but I needed to bolster my spirit and my heart. For me, I’ve learned there has to be a level of peace when I come into work. Where I’m grateful that everything, for right now, is good.”