here is a boy who should be dancing./here is a boy who should be up in the morning making his mother laugh, eye shine reflecting the sky, a sigh in his chest leaning into the wind of the day with a sweet ache to own the horizon in his wing span.
So begins a poem by Pittsburgh writer, activist, and multidisciplinary artist Vanessa German in honor of Antwon Rose II, the local teen whose death at the hands of a police officer sparked outrage and protests throughout the city. Her words and images have clearly resonated with local readers, who voted German Best Local Poet and Best Local Visual Artist.
Since the early 2000s, German has given voice to the struggles of marginalized Pittsburgh communities through her writing. Her artwork has gone beyond the gallery into the streets with the “Stop Shooting: We Love You” signs protesting gun violence.
That’s in addition to the myriad of other projects that have earned her local and international acclaim, from her African-American “power figure” sculptures confronting the violence of white supremacy and racism to taking the stage in 2018 as the titular real-life blues legend in the August Wilson play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
“I’d like my work to both open doors and be obstacles,” says German. “I want the work to move
creative, human, loving, curious, connected power and to be an obstacle, a hindrance to hate, cruelty, shame, and violences of the heart, soul, and body.”
Her commitment to activism elevates her art and writing to something truly inspiring. At the Homewood-based community ARThouse, she shares her gifts with local youth, and in 2018, vowed to use winnings from a major art award to create a Museum of Resilience honoring the many single Black mothers and their children dealing with violence in the surrounding neighborhood.
“As a human citizen, I am bound by love — love and justice,” says German. “So, in Pittsburgh, my role as a creative human citizen is to love and to create. I fight for this.”