In Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: The Creativity of Black Women in the South,”the poet discusses the perception of black women in America from early slavery to her own childhood. I found that both Walker and I see the merit of examining perception versus reality because the reality of black women artists of the past 300 years was certainly shaped by both. The poet Jean Toomer looked upon the black women of the Post-Reconstruction South and saw “Saints” who “lay vacant and fallow as autumn fields with harvest time never in sight.”(233) If his account of these women was true, how then do you explain Alice Walker herself? Did her creativity inexplicably spontaneously generate on the bodies of her dead “vacant” ancestors or, to play on the title, sprout out of a garden instead of her mother’s womb and experiences? Contemporary black women artists, as Walker saw them, are products of artists just like themselves who created art with whatever tools were at their disposal.
Walker gives us an excellent archetype of the black woman, who kept the creativity alive through the stifling years of slavery, oppression and sainthood, in her own mother. Toomer saw a black woman and saw a creature who “waited for a day when the unknown thing that was in them would be made known, but guessed, somehow in their darkness, that on the day of their revelation they would be long dead.”(233) But Walker looked at her mother and saw a tireless provider of eight children. She recalls that her mother never once had a moment to herself to reflect or examine herself.(238) Therefore, Minnie Lou Walker was not sitting around waiting for anything to be revealed to her in the darkness. Their was no “unknown thing” that she lacked. Her artistry was herself and her art hung not on the walls of a museum, but in the clothes on her children’s back and in the roots of the garden that she planted.
To further examine the tools of the black woman artist, it is again necessary to look at perception versus reality. Walker makes note several times of the violence inflicted on black women and how their bodies were virtually and literally taken from them. “When we have asked for love, we have been given children. In short, even our plainer gifts, our labors of fidelity and love, have been knocked down our throats.”(237) Child bearing became not only a product of this violence, but also a consolation prize for their sacrifices. Instead of being given a paintbrush or a pen, black women were “gifted” children to raise and the role of the matriarch to assume. Yet, as Walker reflects at the end of the article, it is perhaps in their own children that black women produce their greatest piece of art. Although children were given to black women as tools of their own oppression, black women artists claimed their offspring or themselves. As her mother and grandmother did before her, Walker will keep the creativity of the black woman alive and truly become their “signatures.” (243)