River of Sleep

© Durga Yael Bernhard

River of Sleep was painted in Guinea, West Africa, where I traveled twice to study the dance and music of the region.  I was in my late thirties, and had saved up for these trips – almost a month of intensive study, taking two dance classes and two drum classes every day, plus private djembe lessons in downtown Conakry, the capital city.  That was nearly twenty years ago, yet the rhythms I learned on those two trips still provide material for the drum classes I teach to this day.

Despite all that output of energy – in 90 to 100-degree heat, bottled water was my biggest expense in Guinea – I had terrible insomnia.  There was no air conditioning in our rented house, and the sounds of nighttime birds, strange trilling insects, packs of wild dogs, and unfamiliar voices were more than enough to keep me awake.  I dozed, floating through the African night, a fan blowing through my mosquito net (when the electricity worked).  As a truck driver sees double yellow lines in his dreams after a long day on the highway, my drowsy slumbering was interwoven with the rhythms and movements of the day.  My spine was like taffy in the heat, softened and stretched, liberated from the cold grip of the winter I had left behind.  Like a river, the pulse of Africa coursed through my sleep – or was I swimming in it, or woven into it?  Primal and intricate, the rhythms and dance of Guinea mingled with my unconscious . . . and re-emerged in this painting.

Wishing you a warm and cozy week.

D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of:
LOVE IS – a unique crossover book for all ages
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVEExplore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!
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