“Ken’nahsa:ke/Khson:ne: On My Tongue, On My Back (Family Tree)” (2018)
Mixed media construction with Black Body Bag
SPACES Gallery July 14th thru September 30, 2018
“Sunk in the grass of an empty lot on a spring Saturday, I split the stems of milkweed and thought about ants and peach pits and death and where the world went when I closed my eyes.”
—Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
In 1984 the remains of Estherline Robinson were discovered by a film crew scouting location for a horror film in East Cleveland—she died in 1979. Her body was perceived as a white female body and caused a stir due to the defunct funeral home’s black ownership and clientele.
Estherline was born to a mixed race family (Aboriginal, Jamaican, Western European) in 1896 across the border (Canada), raised in Steubenville, Ohio and abandoned (along with her female siblings) by her mother to an orphanage in Northeast Ohio. She was adopted by a prominent African-American family in Oberlin, Ohio and worked their farm—her name was changed to Alice Copes. She met her husband, James Lane, who also worked for the landowner, Oliver Copes (a free person of color from coastal North Carolina). James died two years after the birth of their youngest daughter; eventually raising her family in Lorain, Ohio with an abusive second husband, who’s surname was Peace. He moved his mistress into the family home—she was Mexican.
“The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.”
—The Bluest Eye
As an adult, Estherline and her family were reunited with their birth mother—a superstitious creative with light skin and a history of mental illness. The descendants of the Lyons-Robinson family through the years experienced a plethora of violence and loss from the environment they found themselves in—the intersections of race, class, gender, time and place. Additionally, the daughter of Estherline married into the Copes family which created complex meaning-making, curious silences and internal tensions regarding kinship ties, personal relationships and memory.
“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us—all who knew her—felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health . . . and fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved.”
This work is an examination of inter-generational trauma and the capacity for reconciliation after years of structural and interpersonal violence—long after lengthy silences have obscured the story itself and the external environment continues to erase one’s existence (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually); the impact of removal.
“Each member of the family in his cell of consciousness, each making his own patchwork quilt of reality—collecting fragments of experience here, pieces of information there. From the tiny impressions gleaned from one another, they created a sense of belonging and tried to make do with the way they found each other.” —Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
The remains of Estherline Robinson were interned in Westwood Cemetery in June of 2018 by her great-grandchild, M. Carmen Lane.
Original Composition: "Our Relatives" by Jennifer Elizabeth Kreisberg (Tuscarora), hand drum and vocals www.jenniferelizabethkreisberg.com
“Chopa/Ellegua Till: The Nigger Who Did The Talking” (2018)
Mixed media construction with Water Recovery Body Bag SPACES Gallery July 14th thru September 30, 2018
On August 21,1955 Emmett Louis Till arrived from Chicago, Illinois to Money, Mississippi. Seven days later his body was dumped into the Tallahatchie River after being lynched by white men who accused him of “wolf-whistling” at a white woman. He was fourteen years old at the moment of death—weighed down by a fan. Three days after the dumping, his naked body was removed from the river after two boys discovered it while fishing. The white woman had lied.
“His head rests on an ochre-yellow fabric.” —Calvin Tomkins
on Open Casket by Dana Schutz, white woman artist
“My engagement with this image was through empathy with his mother.” —D.S.
“It [Emmett Till’s lynching] is an American Tragedy.”
—Dana Schutz, from a public talk with Nell Painter at the Cleveland Museum of Art
The white woman had lied. Through a private conversation with historian and professor of Indigenous Spiritualities at the University of Denver, Rachel Elizabeth Harding (daughter of Vincent and Rosemarie Freeney Harding), a discussion of the agency of Mamie Till took place. Not only had she spoken to her mother about whether or not to open the casket of her lynched child; Mamie had also had several interactions with the Spirit World regarding the necessity to display the mutilated remains of her son. Emmett now an “ancestor” conferred with his mother to create the scene.
Mamie Till acted as artist-activist-curator; installed her son with an open casket.
This work is an examination of the agency of Spirit within the lived experience of black bodies under siege navigating both the natural and constructed world—the medicine to soothe the dissonance; necessity of contact with the ancestors in the face of a constant molesting of the meaning of the black experience—here/now, then.
A Color Removed (2015 to 2018)
A Color Removed was conceived by Michael Rakowitz, as a response to the shooting of Tamir Rice by Cleveland police, and was debuted as a call to action during his 2015 Beamer-Schneider Lecture at Case Western Reserve University. In response to community feedback and the involvement of the Rice family, the project evolved to include a group exhibition of newly commissioned works by Cleveland-based artists who have long explored the conceptual underpinnings of A Color Removed in their work: Amber N. Ford, Amanda King and Shooting Without Bullets youth photographers, M. Carmen Lane, and RA Washington of Guide to Kulchur Learn House. Additional collaborators include Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, Amir Berbic, Christopher Horne, Elaine Hullihen, Kelley O'Brien & Anthony Warnick of The Muted Horn, and Samaria Rice & The Tamir Rice Foundation.
excerpt from SPACES GALLERY
Body Bag (2018), Art Book
Calling Out After Slaughter (2015), Poetry
ArtSalvage GLENVILLE (2018), co-curator; forthcoming
ArtSalvage CLE is an experimental arts pop-up exhibition centering contemporary Black and Indigenous performance, visual art, film and public programs launching in Fall 2018 in Glenville. Follow on IG @artsalvagecle