Each painting starts first with my hands in the dirt. from Louisiana clays, soil, and natural inks from Louisiana, an area that was once called Bulbancha or "the place of many tongues."
This collection started out as a search for natural beauty, but earthly gifts are often accompanied by a lengthy history of exploitation of humans and the earth. I'd like to share a some of that hard history here because acknowledging and reckoning with the past helps us experience the world more accurately, better empathize with each other, and deepen our understanding of ourselves in relation so that we are equipped to contribute to a more equitable future.
HISTORY OF THE LAND
The clays used in the paintings are from St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. 13,000 years ago this land was home to Paleolithic peoples, then Mississippian mound builders, then Acolapissa, Tangipahoa, and Choctaw. It was called Bonfouca or "river residence."
Then the French arrived. They called the bayou La Liberte. Then the Spanish gave away land rights, violently displacing native peoples. Colonists turned the cypress into lumber and the clay into brick, industries that would build New Orleans using the forced labor of enslaved people.
After the Civil War, slavery was replace with Black codes, convict leasing, and state-sanctioned white terrorism. This specific site where the clay was found used to be the Salmen Brick & Lumber Company which relied on Black labor, poorly paid or forced through imprisonment.
Today it's a park. The trails are covered in brick fragments still. 71% of residents in St. Tammany Parish voted for Donald Trump in 2020.
how do you see the land?
the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behavior of individuals
Eyes dart, hairs up, all senses on notice.
Look over your shoulder --
Is this feeling from the past or is it here now?
It could just be a walk in the park. But the layers of our identities means we assume unequal levels of risks just by walking alone in America.
The concept of qualia acknowledges the range of people's experiences:
“Is my experience of this color/ this place / this moment the same as yours?” And likewise, “Is my experience of living in this world the same as yours?”
How does an oak tree with Spanish moss make you feel? What does it make you think of?
Each of these experiences are valid on its own. But taken together, we can start to see how even our perceptions of a tree are at odds with each, especially if we do not recognize and validate others’ experiences. Nothing is one dimensional. Spanish moss is an invasive species still colonizing AND it looks so beautiful when it moves with the wind. Both of these things are true.
In that same way, we could look at the Louisiana clay as just a beautiful part of the earth. But the clay was exploited by brick companies which exploited Black labor for the sake of profit. So this clay is a reminder of how cruel humans can become in the search for money and power AND it's a beautiful element that exists in earth tones of mauve, salmon, crimson, sienna, and burnt umber. Both of these things are true.
I don’t have any answers, but my working theory is that landscapes are rarely neutral, and we can't afford neutrality. Reckoning with the land's history and seeking to understand each other’s experiences of our shared world is a good place to start. Dismantling institutions that do not serve people equally and do not protect the earth is where that needs to lead.