Artist Member Jack Waddell writes about what inspired one of his collages. To see more of his work, visit his webpage.

According to the February, 1981 issue of Ebony magazine, Officer Gail A. Cobb was the first policewoman to be killed in the line of duty in the USA. At the young age of 24, Officer Cobb was shot in 1974, as she pursued a gunman in downtown Washington, D.C. The gunman fired at close range and the bullet went through her wrist (shattering the watch Officer Cobb’s mother had given her), through the police radio, and into her heart. A photograph of Officer Cobb was included in the magazine. She was in her hoop earrings and had fashionable hair-do. Too often women, and especially African American women, are lost to history. Here was Officer Cobb, pictured and remembered.

I’ve always been intrigued by firsts achieved by women: the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon (Elisabeth Thible), the first woman to win a Noble Peace Prize (Bertha von Suttner) and the first self-made millionaire (Madam C.J. Walker). Achievements gained by women inspire me, as I’ve never felt at home with the patriarchal culture we live in.These celebrated achievements hold meaning for me not only because I enjoy stories of success, but also because I realize homophobia contains traces of misogyny.Achievements by all genders and sexualities should be celebrated.

Sadly, Officer Cobb’s story hasn’t been conspicuously memorialized and celebrated.Where is she in the history books? Why is there no statue commemorating the bravery of Officer Gail A. Cobb, America’s first policewoman to be killed while protecting her community? Looking at the photograph of Officer Cobb, I felt the need to create my own memorial and raise awareness about her contribution to America.

Officer Cobb’s story was situated within a larger article in the issue of Ebony entitled “Do Women Make Good Cops?” Reading this article in 2012, as a 23 year-old white gay man from the south, it seemed to me a topic thankfully left behind with the evolution of our sexual politics. But the more I thought about it, I could not escape the truth that discrimination in many forms is still a reality; work place discrimination is experienced by many, including people of color, people living with disabilities, people living with HIV, transgender folks and many others. As a gay man living with HIV I often wonder if I can succeed within the predetermined ideas of success that the dominant culture promotes. Headlines such as “Do Woman Make Good Cops?” do not give me hope. To counter this malaise, I decided to make a series of collages inspired from the images and articles about the women featured in the back issues of Ebony and Jet a friend had given me.Officer Cobb’s story was the first collage I made in this series.I knew I wanted to comment on the vulnerability she experienced not so only as a policewoman, but more so as a human being, endangering her life in order to better serve her community.

Pulling from these back issues of Ebony and Jet, I paired the photograph of Officer Cobb with a piece of bold text taken from a pharmaceutical advertisement that reads “Continuous Protection Plan.” To the left of Gail’s photo I glued an alleged before and after illustration.Underneath “Continuous Protection Plan” I placed a strip of text that asks the question “What is the secret?” The goal here was to inspire the question: Is there any such secret or plan?

The background of the collage is a jumble of text and bodies—a mirror of the confusion and excitement I feel while learning about historic firsts, while engaging in the ongoing present.

Are you a Visual AIDS artist member and want to write about your artwork? Email Ted Kerr at tkerr@visualaids.org

Jack Waddell