Here is the second illustration that I submitted to SCBWI's Art Spot & Bulletin contest. You can check out my post on the first illustration for more info here, covering what the SCBWI News Bulletin is and why I decided to enter my work here. I'm hoping that this vignette will be chosen to head the SCBWI International section. I LOVE meeting other authors and illustrators from different countries and ethnic backgrounds. As a dual citizen of the UK and the USA I grew up between cultures, between nations and, to a certain extent, between identities, all of which has given me a great passion for exploring and understanding different cultures.
I've called this piece "Culture Share" as a nod to a fantastic program that my daughter and son had at their preschool. Their teachers had a bookshelf in the corner of the room and each week of the year one child brought in objects that represented their family's culture. Each child would present their shelf of family objects while the other kiddos sat in a circle listening and asking pointed questions. Of course on our week the shelves were adorned with our English phone booth piggy bank and a little cotton Union Jack but it also always featured a dala horse.
My mom has a smidgin of Swedish from a great aunt somewhere along the line so every year growing up we participated in a beautiful Saint Lucia festival, also known as the Festival of Lights. My main memories from this pageant were of having cold feet in the stone church and seeing how long we could dangle our fingers in the candle flames. Now as an adult I appreciate the beauty of the Lucia festival, the slow turning of the seasons that it marks and the opportunity for everyone to witness and celebrate the next crop of young people as they graduate up through the ranks of the Lucia characters. I was excited in this spot illustration to give a nod to this tradition with the head wreath and the candles, as well as the silk red ribbon on the floor. I'm pretty sure that ribbon symbolizes death but don't quote me! There are a ton of gorgeous books on the Swedish folk stories that revolve around Lucia. I hope to one day add to that oeuvre, just as those stories added wonder and cold toes to my own life!
The second culture I wanted to give a nod to was the culture of Mali in West Africa. Of course we are at a moment here in the USA when we are contemplating deeply the contributions and the needs of our Black friends and neighbors. One of the important parts of that contemplation is making sure that we are shedding a spotlight on the experiences of Black children in Children's Literature as well as the mother cultures of those individuals. I thought it would be fun to showcase one of the African cultures that is less represented in the American kid's lit world. Mali is an amazing African country that I have only just started to learn more about. I stumbled across the Malian musician Oumou Sangare a few years ago, when Malian musicians were being displaced because of political unrest. Learning about her introduced me to what a vibrant and influential music scene there is in Mali. Apparently even among all that amazing talent, Sangare is extremely well known and admired. I downloaded a bunch of her music and although I have to look up translations for all the lyrics I love her voice, the harmonies she weaves with her back up singers and all the cool percussive instruments that you just don't hear in mainstream American music. I can't be sure but I think there's a gourd that gets into the mix every once and a while!
I had to choose an object that would visually nod to Malian culture and thought mud cloth or bògòlanfini would be a good way to go. This fabric is cotton and dyed with fermented mud. The designs are basically monochromatic which I thought would be a fit for this black and white spot illustration. I love the idea of two young girls digging through their mom's trunks for special cultural objects and enjoying the traditional costumes together. Like dancing our fingers through tiny flames in the middle of a drafty December church, those are the sweet moments that we enjoy but take for granted as children. Then, many years on, we suddenly realize that we have been shaped by the accumulation of such moments. "Culture Share" is about Sweden and Mali specifically, but it also a nod to all the fun and joy we can build for each other as we stretch out and celebrate the objects and traditions that make us who we are.