This is one of the first paintings I ever made. Well, it’s not really a painting, since it is ink, watercolor, and acrylic on bristol board.
It is inspired by a memory. I grew up in Mexico, and I would accompany my housekeeper to the market every other day to help her with the groceries. I never minded going, the market was always filled with flowers, dolls, toys, clothes, meat, spices, fruits… stuff; but mostly it was filled with color. My favorite section was the birds. Merchants had all different types of colorful tropical birds, flying around in minute spaces. Every once in a while my housekeeper would let me buy one since they were so cheap, but the longest I managed to keep one alive was 38 days (I counted). I never understood why those birds kept dying. It wasn’t because I was not taking care of them, as I made sure that they had sufficient food, water, and that their cages were clean. Even their cages were getting increasingly grand, as I thought that a larger cage may be a factor in the death rates. No matter what I did, those birds would sing and whistle one day and plop down and die the next.
When I was twelve, I gave up. I went to the market and bought birds at the bird section one last time. I chose the ones that no one wanted, the ugliest and cheapest birds they had. I must have bought more than twenty of them, but I don’t remember the exact number. I took the boxes with holes to the roof of my house, and opened them to let them go. For a brief moment, they just stared at me, unsure of what had just happened. Then they realized their situation and in too little a time, I heard a confused fluster of wings and I saw them fly off over my neighbor’s rooftops, reveling in their newfound freedom. I’m unsure what their fates were, as they had probably been raised in captivity and knew nothing of life in the wild, but I like to think that those moments were the best part of their lives as they soared through the air, stretching their wings in freedom for the first time.
I never really understood this experience until I read Maya Angelou’s book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. I too know why the caged bird sings: the caged bird sings of freedom.