above: Ashley Bryan, “Puppet,” Ken Hannont photo
Ashley Bryan’s response to war and racism was to shine a light upon those evils and create beauty and joy, awe and wonder.
He continues to do so in a supremely democratic, anti-elitist way. He celebrates what is common, making art out of found objects washed up from the sea — fisherman’s gloves, old sweaters, stew bones. He takes cast off objects and makes something beautiful from them. Someone once asked him “Where in Africa did you get these puppets?” Only then did he realize that his puppets really do come from his heritage, a place deep in his past. He shows us how each one is a beautiful, unique creation. Every one of us is different and he celebrates those differences — so very American in its message. We are an immigrant nation and we historically have gained strength from the give and take of those differences.
Darkness in ones’ life often surfaces from a negative self image. Ashley’s performances, his books, his readings, his poetry are all about lifting the spirit. “If we affirm who we are with love for all people we can withstand the brutality.”
Ashley’s childlike approach to life and art is not about being innocent or naive. It is profound. He experienced the abomination of war and racism. He emboldens us to keep the child in us alive and to confront the darkness as would a child. No one is born racist. No one is born to fight war. We are all born with an awe, a spirit of wonderment for life.
I Know a Man … Ashley Bryan, produced by Richard Kane and Rob Shetterly, is the latest film in the UMVA’s Maine Masters series. It will screen at the Emerge Film Festival in Lewiston, ME on April 29th. Time and place TBA.