Malaika Favorite's art supplies were running low.
She didn't have canvases and had only a few tubes of paint, but she did have washboards. She'd collected them from her mother and friends' moms who'd trashed the grooved boards for washing machines.
"And I used what I had," Favorite says. "That's what I do as an artist. I started painting the washboards."
That was in the 1980s. Washboards have since become one of her main mediums, and her most recent pieces can be seen in a solo show, "Washboard City," through Jan. 20 at the West Baton Rouge Museum.
Favorite also is showing paintings in her exhibit, "Threads of Kindship," through Dec. 27 at Baton Rouge Gallery.
In West Baton Rouge, each washboard tells a story connected to Favorite, all inspired by the women she now sees as early entrepreneurs.
"People would drop off their laundry in bundles, and they paid my mother and these other women to wash and iron them," Favorite says. "And these women used the extra money they made to help their families."
Coinciding with the West Baton Rouge Museum's exhibit, "Malaika Favorite: Washboard City" is "Piecing Together the Blues: Artwork by John Lawson."
But Favorite also knows these women didn't see themselves as business people at the time. The work was painful and hard, something even her own mother doesn't like remembering. But Favorite doesn't want to let these memories die, so she tells them through the very instruments that caused their misery.
The washboards represent strength to Favorite, the mainstay that survives through her "Washboard City" series.
Favorite also has found strength in the washboards. They began as a necessity and are now one of her artistic trademarks.
Her work has been featured in several books, as well as a number of notable collections, including the Absolut Vodka collection, The Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia; The Alexandria Museum of Art; The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta; the Harlsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's permanent collection; and The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. She also was honored as the 2018 recipient of the Michael Crespo Fellowship.
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The West Baton Rouge Museum's show was a case of Favorite being in the right place at the right time. She stopped by the museum to show some of her latest washboards to Kathe Hambrick, curator of exhibits, who also is founder of the River Road African American Museum.
"When the staff there saw my work, they were interested," she says. "They wanted to show my washboards."
That's when Favorite asked Hambrick if the museum could spare a sheet of roofing tin.
"I like a corrugated surface," she says. "It has a folksy look."
But that piece of tin meant something more to Favorite. It reminded her of the roof that sheltered her childhood home in Geismar, where her family worked in the sugar cane fields. She'd eventually leave that home to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees in fine art from LSU, then marry and move to Augusta after teaching at Alabama State University. She also taught part-time at LSU before moving back to Geismar, where she lives with her mom and works as a full-time artist.
They don't live in her childhood home that once stood on the River Road, but the town conjures memories that show up in her work.
The piece she created from the corrugated tin tells her story of home, incorporating several washboards, showing everyday life in what she calls "Washboard City."
The piece is the show's largest, as well as its namesake. Other pieces commemorate Ernest Gaines' character, Miss Jane Pittman; parents passing down stories to their children; and children helping parents with chores in "Momma's Helpers."
She incorporates her poem, "The River Flows Through Us," into her piece of the same title. The piece tells the story of how the Mississippi River sustained families along the River Road with fish and was an important source of transportation for produce exported from the South.
In "Washing Out Katrina," she tells the story of how, though the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina seemed endless, the storm and its aftermath could never wash away memory.
"It is etched on our souls like the grooves in a washboard," she writes.
And one of the show's most popular pieces is "Jazz Man," where she incorporates an old trumpet surrounded by geese that are flying away.
"I knew that the museum had a blues hall with a jukebox, so I wanted to include a piece about music," Favorite says.
Not all of her stories are joyous, however. Favorite has published three books of poetry, some of which tell tragic tales. And though she doesn't go into extreme detail in the descriptions for this exhibit, some pieces hint at hardship.
One washboard in particular, "Digging Up the South," uses old pottery shards found in the ground, suggesting forgotten people and times.
But Favorite won't let them be forgotten. She's dug up the memory of them and told their story on a washboard, whose grooves are etched on her soul.
'Malaika Favorite: Washboard City'
A solo, storytelling exhibit of the artist's multimedia washboards
WHEN: Through Jan. 20. Hours are 10 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays and holidays.
WHERE: West Baton Rouge Museum, 845 N. Jefferson Ave., Port Allen.
ADMISSION: $4, adults; $2; seniors age 62 and older, students, AAA members and active military members. Residents of West Baton Rouge Parish and members of the West Baton Rouge Historical Association are admitted free. State tax is added to all ticket prices.
INFORMATION: Call (225) 336-2422 or visit westbatonrougemuseum.com.