For local artist of color Cindy Finnie, recent news surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others has formed a creative block unlike any she has encountered.
“I’m really deeply affected by the things that have happened in and to our community. I wish it was a source of inspiration, but it’s just not,” Finnie said.
Still, she takes comfort in the creativity of others and tries to keep her own work positive.
“Walking around town and seeing all these people who can express themselves in these times and get the message out that we do matter, painting the boarded-up windows of shops and bars, places that are letting Black artists express themselves … it’s beautiful,” she said. “I find joy in that.”
Growing up in Spokane as a Black woman, Finnie often felt isolated. Faced with a lack of diversity, she never experienced the same kind of representation available to her white peers.
She has experienced racism here, she said. But in recent weeks, “Seeing the number of people who are here for me and for people who look like me and my family members, coming out and marching in solidarity, saying that my life matters … it’s sad that it took such an event, but seeing people turn out – I know there are people here who do care about me.”
While some areas still feel foreign to her, Finnie has always felt welcomed by Spokane’s art community. Finnie, who occasionally goes by Parker in honor of her great-aunt and mother figure, has participated in the recent “Art on the Go” exhibits organized by local artists Denny Carman and Alice Harmon.
“They’re so open-minded,” she said. “I don’t know why that is or what that’s about, but I’m not going to question it. I’m just very happy that I’ve been accepted the way I have.”
Moving back to Spokane after years in California, Finnie started exploring art and making jewelry until she “almost accidentally” stumbled into joining Shades of Me, an art group run by and for artists of color.
“They were painting Black women and Black men and Black love … I just thought that was beautiful,” she said. “That’s what inspired me to paint.”
While working on her jewelry inventory, Finnie would look over at the work the group was creating and gradually let herself entertain the idea of becoming a painter.
“Then one day I was in Walmart, and I was like, ‘Why not?’ ” So she bought a mountain of paints and art supplies and got to work. And, by the time Shades of Me put on its next exhibition, Finnie was ready to show her work.
She was happy to start, but it was overwhelming.
“I didn’t feel like I was ready for it,” Finnie said. “It was too much coming at me at one time for someone still very new to painting.”
As her painting and jewelry-making started to feel more like a job, the joy she had once gotten from creating began to fade, so she took a few months off to practice and develop her own style.
Now, any time Finnie is able to save enough energy after her day job in housekeeping, she settles herself into her studio to paint. Her work – largely done in acrylic paints, occasionally dabbling in watercolor – concentrates on uplifting scenes and symbols while aiming to provide an example of real representation for people of color.
In March, she began painting a woman dancing in a field of sunshine. It already sparkled with life, she remembered, but she knew it was missing something.
“So I gave her a daughter. And now they’re both there dancing under the sun together.”
“Representation is everything,” she said, describing the anxiety she feels for children of color in Spokane like her young niece beginning to experience the isolation Finnie knew during her own childhood. “When you’re one of two or three Black kids in a class, you’re going to feel that even as a kid.”
But in her eyes, the ability she has now to provide representation in her art validates the work and gives her hope.
“I just want to show that her features, her hair, her culture is beautiful,” she said. “That she might not look like everybody in her class, but that makes her unique.”
Over the past few weeks, Finnie has found new reasons to hope for change.
“I went to the Black Lives Matter protest held for Eric Garner … the turnout this time was so much bigger,” Finnie said of the protests held the last two weekends. “It shows that people are really tired of what’s going on. That made me feel good with Spokane.”
To see more of Finnie’s work, check out her Instagram account (@spiritual_connectionz).
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