Rest In Peace, Amanda Hayne Kirkwood

Amanda’s memorial was yesterday. I wasn’t able to be there, but wanted to make this offering to those who are mourning and missing her. This piece came out of a couple of circumstances associated with my time living with Amanda. The idea came from a workshop I took at the Precita Eyes Mural Center while I was there. I had hoped to make a painting from it, but it just wasn’t possible then. Now I am in Montana, where I have more time, but not my painting materials. So I thought it might be appropriate to make a digital collage/paint version of the piece for her, especially since she was there for my first days of learning digital design software—and it wasn’t pretty.
Below is the story behind it.
The Story of La “Mural” Para Amandita
In April I attended Susan Kelk Cervantes’ Intro to Community Mural Making workshop at Precita Eyes. In taking the participants through the process she has developed, she asked each of us to think about something important in our lives at the moment, and make a rough sketch depicting that thing. Then we were asked to share our pieces with the group and describe the “narrative” of each. Then, as a group, we turned our drawings over, and collectively recalled a striking element or two from each person’s piece, from which we designed the rough outline of the collaborative mural.
Amanda was the thing that was very much on my mind. The fact that she was coming to the end of her life was a day-to-day reality for me; so I depicted her, in the Mexican tradition we both love, as a calavera. My sketch was what I wanted for her: that she be surrounded by care and helping hands…and beauty, which was important to her. The imagery of the renowned Mexican painter, Rodolfo Morales, came to mind. He had developed a beautiful theme, revisited many times in his paintings, of floating women; usually dark brown, indigenous women. I have never read anything he said about them, but to me, they were archetypal feminine spirits, strong, capable, earthy, carrying their communities on their backs, lifting them up with their morality, their world-weary kindness, connected to the beauty and bounty of the land they tended, and reaped, and bled for…and offered. I used direct images from two of his paintings.
I also drew from the imagery of the group of strangers in the workshop, because their images brought a light to the piece that I just couldn’t achieve on my own, elevating the idea to something containing, possibly, a bit of grace. So I wanted to share the significance of each of the elements.
The man who shared the drum meant it to represent the vibrations of the universe, the “om”—which is what I would want for a friend at the end of her life. But, also, specific to Amanda, who “lived out loud,” a drum reflected beautifully her insistence on being heard. As everyone knew, Amanda was filled with musicality, constantly breaking into song, proud of her singing voice, and her delight in music. She was also insistent on beating her own drum, on making a noise, both joyful and sometimes, as she readily admitted, obnoxious.
I researched the baobab tree, and found it is a symbol of life and positivity in a landscape where little else can thrive. It “… is known for its size and spiritual significance in many African cultures. …Dead relatives are buried at the base of these trees, where it is believed that the baobabs become imbued with their souls. It is fitting, then, that the fruit is used to bring high quality nourishment to the living.” Amanda loved folk traditions, and indigenous belief systems—and integrated them with those of her own religious traditions. In so doing, she recalled her travels with family, their experience of several cultures around the world, and brought back both the power of their strong familial bond, and the humor and tolerance they all learned from entering into so many places not their own.
In the place of the circle of light and spirit I had originally sketched surrounding Amanda, I combined images from an ancient sun/moon god/goddess mask, and the serene face of the Buddha, wishing her both peace and light. And finally, I should share that, even in the group exercise, Amanda and her nurturing angels were placed exactly where Amanda would always wish—maybe even expect—to be: at the center of the composition.
After the piece was finished, I was reminded of another element that needed to be included. One day, while I was still living with her, Amanda complained about the ugly bruises on her arms from the cancer treatments. Knowing how she loved to make fun, I went by Multi Kulti the next evening on the way home from my BAVC workshop, to see if I could find a colorful tattoo sleeve she could pull over her discolored arms. There was only one in stock—a black and white Celtic-looking thing—and so I asked the owner, Reda, if he expected to get any colored ones in…and ended up telling him why I wanted them. At which he insisted on giving me the one he had in stock, as a gift for Amanda. He had never met her. He just offered it out of his own menschery. Giving Amanda not only the gift of an immediate response to her complaint—something she prized highly—but also a random act of kindness from a stranger, which delighted her. I hope she was reminded of those kindnesses, every time she saw that sleeve, and, I hope, chuckled.
I was still working on the story behind this piece and researching the logistics of getting it printed on a banner for her, when I got the text that she had died.
Suffice it to say I was heartbroken that Amanda did not get to see herself as the focus of this image that I created for her. But I hope that it was, nevertheless, in some way, her experience. And I believe the Fates must have had a different idea, that the purpose of this piece was for the living, not for the dying.
So I hope this brings some comfort to those who loved her. It is dedicated to all the members of that company. And, to La Gringita, Amandita, wherever she is.