Indigo-dyed, rescued Mali scarf remnants, thread, gouache
6 2/3 x 3 2/3 feet
A few years ago, I asked myself: What Happens to Our Words When They Are No Longer Spoken? My mother, an accomplished poet and psychologist, had published over 500 poems at the time of her death in 2016. Giving visual voice to her words–and all words no longer spoken–was a core part of this work.
In the series, my mother’s words lie underfoot, to be seen, read and experienced by looking down and stepping on or crossing over them. The largest piece, from her poem Headwaters, is placed on the floor immediately at the entry to the gallery. Three other poem fragments are placed on the floor in gallery doorways, referencing the passage of life to a different understanding. This is not meant to be a morbid or literal reference, but rather a walkthrough of the life cycle and a celebration of one woman’s thoughtful views on her life and her world. This installation brings me full circle through my practice, patching pieces together of the past, relieving my grief, and moving to a new acceptance. All of the poems selected reference the color blue.
In the main poem, Headwaters, the words wind their way from top to bottom of a ragged indigo textile. The poem alludes to my mother’s vision of a positive, moving and powerful future of civil rights in the United States, born of a specific time and place: when she was a girl in Durham, North Carolina in the 1930s. The blue in this case refers to uniforms of the Afro-American workers in the local cigarette factory. The color blue has been crucial to my practice, searching for a particular shade of blue during my residency in Iceland in the first year after her death.
Each letter was individually hand stamped on the fabric, engaging my hands in a form of embodied language*, feeling each letter physically in my body while forming each word. This process began as a somatic response to grief, and brought new awareness to her words. As I created each piece, her poems traveled through me.
The seams and marks left from the wooden slats of the canvas shade in Headwaters are lines on a piece of paper. The letters are sometimes obscured; words are fleeting and not completely seen, like a shadow text. The disintegrated canvas shade cloth (or “dis-integration”) is a play on the sociology of racial integration and segregation. Disintegrating cloth is integral to much of my work called “modern boro” or, indigo-dyed material that has been degraded or worn and patched many times over generations.
In the 30s
in Durham, North Carolina
we didn’t say Blacks
and no one spoke much about civil rights
but most afternoons about 4,
I saw the Movement begin.
A swift brown current
from the cigarette factory in the center of town
into those sun-white streets,
of tight, bright-blue uniforms
into their own heady History—
that ardent river,
as those Carmens surged toward us,
would one day storm new streets and sidewalks,
from the past,
fountaining, looping, twisting, threading
a steadfast channel into our futures.
*It should be noted that “embodied language” is an established term in psychology that I am adapting to fit the needs of my practice.