On Whitney Houston & Embracing Our Differences & Ourselves

Saturday, on the heels of finding out that Whitney Houston died, I found out that I was selected as one of 45 artists out of 2,300 entries to display at the huge Embracing Our Differences outdoor art event at Sarasota bay.


My mother and I had just finished watching Shawshank Redemption, her for the first time, me for the second, when I got up to check my email and got the news of her death via Yahoo. I couldn’t quite believe it. My mother lived through the eighties, and she loved her just as much as I did, most likely more. Not even at Michael Jackson’s death had I teared up at the news and I consider Michael Jackson pretty up there in terms of figures that I have loved and considered a part of my home.

Though I have fleeting moments where I think about the exhibition, how I can attend the reception and how the work will be received, Whitney outweighed the weekend. I ended up looking for some of her music, watching the VH1 tribute music video marathon, discovering things I hadn’t expected about her, found new songs and made new memories. And through it all I thought of my childhood and what she meant to me. I grew up with Whitney Houston.

Simon Cowell said it best in his CNN interview, that her death is one of those moments where you remembered where you were when you found out. For me, her death marks the fourth from Aaliyah, to Heath Ledger, to Michael Jackson. I was with my mother.

Whitney Houston reminded me of my mother or vice versa. So I guess it’s no surprise that this death hit me so hard. It was in the physical features, presence, and a slim figure that they both shared. In fact, my mother was often mistaken for Dionne Warwick. But, to me she was almost Whitney Houston. Each time I saw her face in music videos, even now, I saw her as someone who nurtured me. She almost represents what my mother could have been had she relentlessly pursued her dreams and talent and rose above realities hardships. That’s the underlying feeling that’s always present when watching her in her music videos.

Whitney Houston in 1990. (Year I was born.)

While we were watching the news on CNN, my mother repeatedly told me to step up and blossom. Not only because death came at any minute, but because she knew I wasn’t moving to the best of my abilities. Seeing images, videos of Whitney in her prime, dancing in her music videos, singing with such effortless ability, she saw what I could be if I left my fears and moments of doubt by the wayside.

Songs like “The Greatest Love of All”, “I’m Every Woman”, “When You Believe” her duet with Mariah Carey and a song I just found yesterday, “One Moment in Time”, are about self-empowerment. Acceptance from within. And from that strength your life can move, it can be what you really want. I loved Whitney Houston many reasons. But, she became something more the night of her death when I really listened to her songs again and found this. They parallel what my mother tells me and they ask of me what will I allow to come out of myself. I don’t know specifically what my targeted goal in the visual arts is. I just know which marks I want to cross off. For a long time I thought putting images to a paper was enough for me but it isn’t. I’m glad it never will be. That gives me a chance to be more. I feel the love and ache for having projects in film, in music, in fashion. To take a second a third look at that that I hadn’t even realized I dismissed and forgotten for the wonders of painted paper.

Would I have thought as a little girl growing up on Whitney Houston in the 90’s that I would later be writing this? Sitting down to talk about her death? No. No way.

But, I also didn’t know as a little girl that I’d be making steps to rebuild myself again after believing in illusions of how the world is, who I am, what I can and can’t have in my life. I now see the Embracing Our Differences exhibition in a different light where I saw it before. It further passes along the message I read in Whitney’s lyrics. It’s not only about through art and quotes we are embracing our differences and trying to break the cycle of segregation of all forms that people long dead oh so lovingly left for us. It’s about embracing ourselves. Every bit and piece of us that was marred by what we thought ourselves to be. Instead of blossoming what we are. And in pulling from our highest potential, we share that self-love with someone else. With other people. At least that’s what it means to this visual artist.

Because by Jardley Jean-Louis (for Embracing Our Differences 2012)

With that I’m even more happy to be a part of the Embracing Our Differences outdoor art exhibition. I only wish I lived closer to Sarasota, Florida or had the extra money to travel there to see mine along with other banners blowing in the wind.

Hopefully during those moments where I find myself believing in thoughts that only participate in my stunted growth, I remember this post. About all the things that Whitney was with that confidence and that voice. What it meant to have a gift and what you do with it. And what would I do with mine. That I remember that it is through self-acceptance that we’ll really move our lives. It’ll come from there. That greatest love of all. As cheesy as that may read to some.

Whitney continues to live on through her music videos. As for her death, I’m glad I received the news with someone who reminds me so much of the other. I shared that moment with my mother. Maybe it’s fitting.

Happy Monday.

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