By Taliesin Thomas*
I have known Jean Rim and John Reidy since we were classmates in high school. They had something special even as teenagers—their love has expanded and endured for over twenty years and it’s still going strong. Since our earliest days as friends, I have been a witness to their individual and shared pursuits. During this time I have been especially close with Jean and her artistic trajectory. I have personally observed her development from a ‘traditionally trained’ painter (working mostly in a representational style) into a more diversified and daring artist. Jean’s creative work now explores a range of mediums including live performance, earth happenings, online digital projects and social media collaborations. Her progression into a confident performance artist has been particularly inspirational.
Jean has traveled around the world and she has cultivated many fascinating friendships far and wide. Her international adventures have influenced her worldview and her ability to communicate universal themes through her artistic practice. All the while, Jean’s relationship with John has remained a significant stimulus at the forefront of her creative life. Four years ago, she initiated the “A Day For Loving” performance project. Frankly it was not until the birth of this annual performance piece that I realized that she and John represent a kind of ‘minority’ that both encourages and agitates people in societies all over the globe—they are an interracial couple. We have always shared an incredible honesty and closeness as friends, yet it never occurred to me to view Jean and John as a ‘multicultural’ relationship—they were always just my dearest friends since youth. The “A Day For Loving” performance, however, offered me a distinct understanding of not only their long-standing interpersonal connection, but also a newfound knowledge of a landmark account in American civil history.
The “A Day For Loving” performance is inspired by the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving—a American white man and African American woman—who made a lasting difference in society through their courageous fight against social injustice. They were arrested in the summer of 1958 for breaking the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a law that once made it illegal for people of different race to marry each other in the state of Virginia where the Loving’s lived. After much personal struggle, the Loving’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1967 and yielded the triumphant decree that: “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival … Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State,” as spoken by Chief Justice Earl Warren with respect to their trail.
Jean and John’s annual “A Day For Loving” performance takes place at a different venue each year; this season they went to Tilden Beach in Brooklyn to roam the shore on a hot summer day in June. Yet every year their artistic message remains the same: the Loving story—and the Jean and John story—is a symbolic testimony to the power of mutual human affection and dignity. Jean and John wore the same handmade paper-mache masks of Richard and Mildred that Jean created for their first performance years ago. They wandered around, inviting curious stares from local beach-goers. Although they remained silent during their seaside stroll, their combined voice sang with intention, awareness, acceptance, responsibility and, of course, loving.
Photo courtesy by Jean Rim
Taliesin Thomas is a Brooklyn-based artist-philosopher, writer, and lecturer working in the field of contemporary Chinese art. She is the founding director of the private arts organization AW Asia in New York (2007 – present). Thomas holds an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and she is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Art Theory & Philosophy with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.