Finding Eric Brooks: Morning Through Art and Auto-Ethnography
In April of 1989 my father, Eric Brooks, left this world at the age of 24. I have wished he was here to give me advice or tell about his childhood. I wondered about the sound of his voice, his smile, his life. I wondered about half of my identity. So on my 26th year, I am beginning the journey to find father, celebrate his life and mourn his death through art, ethnography, and art education workshops that focus on helping others mourn through art and storytelling.
Find out more in my blog: findingericbrooks.tumblr.com.
My father died before I was born. Having a parent die is hard, but it has a different meaning if you have never met them or know very much about them. I remember asking my mother about my father. She only remembered a few details about him. I knew that he was from Texas, his name was Eric Brooks, and that I had his smile. His death was wrapped in a mystery and sadness I could not name. My mother met my step-father when I was eight and he has taken the role of my surrogate. It was not until a few years ago that I received a life changing gift from my mother. A picture of my father and a pamphlet from his funeral. I kept them as memories in frames under my bed. I wanted to investigate who he was, but I did not know how.I knew he was my father, but who was he to me?
At the age of 13, I asked my mother about his death. I discovered a shocking truth. He allegedly committed suicide in police custody. He may have been killed by police. When I first found out about this, I had not heard news coverage or stories about police brutality. I thought that no one would believe me. So I kept it a secret. In the wake of #BlackLivesMatter, Sandra Bland, John Burge, and other countless police brutality stories and coverups, I am determined to get to the bottom of my father’s death.I am at a turning point in my career and life. The projects I have done have asked others to be open about their lives, but I had not been open about my own story. I will use auto-ethnography to document and share my journey to find my father, get to the bottom of the circumstances around his death, mourn his death, celebrate his life, and connect with my paternal family.
Today. I talked to many people about this project. It has become an all consuming, constantly in the back of my mind project. I met with a person at the Art Institute waiting for work to begin. I told them my story, and they confided in me that one of their friends died in a jail cell as well.
As I spoke. I held back tears. I keep asking the question. Who are these tears for? Are they for all of the black lives that have been lost in jail cells. Is it for my father? Is it for me?
I am Erica J. Brooks. I walk through this world as a black woman.
I am Erica J. Brooks. I spent some of my time day dreaming about my fathers family. Wondering what it would have been like to grow up in Texas.
I am Erica J.Brooks. I spent time being angry at my maternal family. I mean really angry. At being unable to provide me with more money than I have now, more simple emotional support. But after hearing more about my fathers side of the family. I am happy that I was raised with them. I am Erica J. Brooks. I am alone. But I am not. I am Erica J. Brooks. You know me. But I am hiding.
I am going to be honest. I am afraid to work on this project. A couple weeks ago, I showed my mother the write up for this project. She was highly impressed, but also deeply afraid of me talking to people about this project. The reason, I am in disbelief, and also still not ready to talk about. As tears came down my mother’s eyes, I knew the beauty and the importance of this project. My work. My mission with this project, is to talk about my father’s life. The circumstances of his death, though important, is not what my mother, I, or I believe the readers and viewers of this project, need. I am here to celebrate life, not fear death. I am here because I am a part of my father. I don’t know him, but I know he would not want me to focus on the very end of the story. As We read about #blacklivesmatter, mass shootings, domestic and international terrorism, and pain and hatred. I am using this project to breathe, relax, and create. I am afraid. I remember seeing my mother’s tears. I am afraid to tell the story. I am afraid to call my great uncle. I am afraid to make questions and have them answered. Because I am black, I am ultimately afraid to continue talking about black death. Especially my father.
Finding Eric Brooks: Installation : Feb 2016
These images are a reworking of some of the post it notes from the installation.
Chicago Park District : Understanding the Impact of Loss
As I deinstalled from the installation Finding Eric Brooks: 125 Roses, I am honored and floored at the amount of people that left note for their loved one’s who have passed away. For a long time I thought I was alone in my mourning, my sadness, my anger. But I was incorrect.
My project is about my feelings that are lingering after my dad’s death. After the initial feelings what remains? How do I express my love for him? How do I celebrate and mourn?
I have always shared my own emotions through storytelling. As an educator it was important for me to interact on a certain level with the individuals who are part of my art and specifically this installation. Many of the exhibitions and installations that I called upon (Ex: Smart Museum of Art or Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled: Portraits of Ross in L.A., etc) all have an interactive components. Instead of taking something away, people left me and other viewers with a memory.
Some of the notes and emotions that captured me the most were the ones of regret.
Regrets that they never said goodbye, that they let a situation get to a point before they said goodbye. I learn and still continue to learn the importance of appreciating the person while they are here.
This project was my private funeral for my father, and all were invited to the wake.