Painter Keli J. Walker stands next to her painting “The Albino” on display at Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland through Apr. 28. Photo by Babatunde Harrison.
By Keli Walker
I paint faces that hold stories. I paint them to understand their histories, emotions, and dreams. My process is dialectic; conversing with the face through every brush stroke.
The more time I spend painting faces, the more the face tells me about who they are and how to render their appearance. They often want me to communicate something about them that isn’t apparent from the original image.
My images come from my own experience, my imagination and photography. I often find faces that I’ve never seen so that I can have an entirely new conversation with a new individual.
My goal in painting these faces is to unearth commonalities in our collective human experience and ultimately share them with others.
The Albino wears a face with a tough story. At first glance, she may appear to be a white baby cared for by an African nanny… thus the difficulty of her story. She is a Black child with Black parents, who asked me to hide her mother’s face in order to focus exclusively on her story.
Albino children in Africa (Tanzania in particular) are subject to gross mysticism and dehumanization. In several cases, men with HIV and AIDS have abducted albino girls in belief that raping and killing them will cure their affliction.
Their body parts are believed to be essential components for magical medicinal recipes. Innocent children are hunted by their own people and murdered for the purpose of healing.
These atrocities occur throughout Africa, but Tanzania is one of few countries whose national press has the freedom to report it. Over 71 people with albinism have been murdered in Tanzania since 2006.
This baby is too young to defend herself. She clings for protection to her mother, who is fully aware that she is an infant target.
Even her mother may fail in protecting her from harm. Her sleeping face is stern, dreaming of the day that she’ll be left to fend completely for herself. She is far too cynical for her young age, but the bright colors of her mother’s sling promise a more vibrant future.
Keli J. Walker is a painter who lives in the East Bay. Her art is on display through April 28 at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland.