This month I had the honor of sitting down with Grant Henry aka Sister Louisa the owner and creator of the world-famous Sisters Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium on Edgewood. I realized how little I really knew about the man behind the legend and how his alter ego has saved himself and so many others.
Hey Sister Louisa! I can’t believe it was exactly one year ago today that the pandemic struck. What a year! How have you been handling things?
I’ve been just taking everything day by day. I am 65, I’ve been divorced twice, I have raised three kids, I was in the seminary, I became an artist, I opened Church, etc., etc. Everything in my life has just been a phase. A different chapter of my story. Every generation before us has had something that defines their story whether it be the Great Depression, AIDS, or the countless plagues before our time. We just have to power through, remain strong and be brave.
One thing I have learned over the years, especially being a business owner, is the only thing that is consistent is that nothing is consistent at all. Life is a constant ebb and flow and taking things day by day is my biggest challenge. I am continuously trying to live my life by going with the flow and modeling my existence after “Fuck Fear,” a quote that you and the Church have made famous by placing it on all your merchandise. If I could truly live my life without fear I would be the ultimate Zen Master.
Taking things day by day and continuing to get out of bed and do the work is the only choice we have. Caleb from “What Now Atlanta” bought a piece of work from me a few years ago that simply says, “The only difference between doing it and not doing it is doing it,” which pretty much sums up the secret to success. What other choice do we have? We are always in the middle of our story. The only way I have made it and continue to make it is simply by not giving up. I just keep getting up and going. The only way to get through today is to keep on moving until tomorrow. Tomorrow is always a new day.
I find it interesting that you unconsciously quote some of your most popular pieces of art with the advice that you are giving yourself. The one piece of work I own from you that I love so much is a vintage mirror that I have by my door that says “Grieve It and Go!” I look at myself in that mirror every day and am reminded to grieve whatever trauma or hardship I have had in the past or present day and to move forward and let it all go before I head out into the world.
I don’t grieve very long. I might lay in bed for a day. I think growing up in an unstable family has prepared me for this. I had to take care of myself as a kid. I am 65 fucking years old; I am dying as we speak. I don’t have the time, I gotta live.
When I hear you speak you are consistently saying things like “Life will take care of you”, “Everything will play out the way it is supposed to”, “Trust in the Journey” which all sounds to me like you have faith. You are constantly challenging the hypocrisy of religion and Christianity with your artwork and within the walls of the Church. It makes me wonder if you believe in God – are you spiritual? What does Grant Henry believe in if anything?
Well, I used to be in the seminary to become a Presbyterian preacher, so that obviously plays a big part of my story and what I choose to explore in my work. I left because they were forcing me to say that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ and I refused. Jesus might be one of the avenues to find happiness, but it’s not the only way. If you notice, most of my artwork asks questions. There are usually no answers. Do I believe that Jesus pushed the rock out and escaped the tomb? No. But I do believe that our stories as humans parallel the stories of all religions. One of my pieces I love the most and that reflects my beliefs the most says, “Religious people fear hell, Spiritual people have been there.” I have lived hell. I have been there and back. I am deeply spiritual. Religious, not so much. I don’t think hell is a place that you go to and burn up. I think heaven and hell can be how you live your life today, how you wake up, and the decisions that you make every day while you are alive. I’m not scared of dying. I think I am possibly going to die every day. That’s why I don’t buy porn. I am so afraid my daughter will find it if I accidentally get hit by a bus or something. I am always prepared because I am finally living an authentic life. I didn’t always live an authentic life. There was a day when I finally said, I’m gonna do me now.
When was that day? What was that moment? What was it that happened that made you finally say, “Fuck Fear”?
A lot of people don’t think I have fear because “Fuck Fear” is my mantra, but I probably have more fear than anybody. Luckily, I have more faith then fear. If I can name the fear specifically it goes away. If I don’t tell the truth and if I’m not being authentic, then I don’t have freedom.
So, living your truth is what keeps the fear away?
Yes, but I have to be careful because I can attract people who aren’t fulfilled in their own lives and who want to be happy because I am happy. I attract people who want to live authentic lives because I live authentically and then what happens is I have to keep giving to them so they can be happy, and they keep taking from me in order to make themselves whole.
I think that’s called codependency. Trust me, I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy to try to break me of the habit. I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing though. At the end of the day I think it just means you have a really big heart and that you care for people and that you want everyone to be happy but when that starts sucking you dry of your own fulfillment, it becomes the problem. You simply can’t make somebody else happy, they have to figure it out on their own.
I finally have learned what an equal relationship is. All relationships are only healthy when there is an equal give and take. I finally have great friends now, but it is an easy trap to fall back into again if you’re not careful. I have learned to say, “I can’t do that and stay whole,” and it stops codependency in its tracks.
Ultimately you have to take care of you. It goes right along with the quote that RuPaul uses to end Drag Race: “If you can’t love yourself how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an Amen?”
Speaking of love: what do you still love about Atlanta? Our city is going through so many challenges these days.
Our city’s government is not taking care of its own, and it couldn’t be more evident than what all is happening on Edgewood Avenue. I know we are in transition and I have faith in our city and I still love Atlanta. Atlanta is a cow town. Maybe it’s because I’m 100, but I know people everywhere. There is some scary shit going on out there right now but you have to get involved. You have to reach out to your city council, you have to speak out, you have to vote or else you can’t complain. If you work hard then all that scary shit will go away.