If These Walls Could Talk
On display now at the Neill-Cochran House Museum
WELCOME to an immersive experience that goes beyond an exhibition of visual art. You will have to hunt down the sculptures, placed carefully throughout this venerable historic house. Things are hidden in plain sight, just like the stories of people who served and lived here since 1855. It is their legacy—especially that of the enslaved workers—that this project attempts to bring to light. This collaboration with Jennifer Cumberbatch is a blend of performance and sculpture, and is an attempt to model, in 2020, what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the beloved community.” The show begins outside the comfort zone, in the slave quarters.
The “treasure map” will help you discern the fake from the real. If that piques your curiosity, ask for more information about the technical process, and the ideas and sources behind the sculpture (there is a video of my studio practice, ongoing website updates, and a notebook on the art). All of the pieces are handmade of fine porcelain clay, and each has an unfinished story. Please join the conversation in the “Wall of Words Room,” and consider adding your voice to the StoryCorps® archives.
Porcelain is an ideal medium for exploring “white fragility”—the phenomenon of defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially. This antebellum home has provided the ideal context to explore the “niceties” and historic distortions that can keep us apart. You may be challenged by pieces such as my Monkey Mind Marriage, but please know the display is an intentional interrogation of the obliviousness that I, myself, am learning to overcome.
My hope with this project is to express the fullness of life—the messy mix of trivial and profound, joy and grief, time compressed into memory—and the insensitive and unintended consequences that follow many good intentions. Moreover, I hope the project reminds us all to honor one another’s humanity. We as a nation must confront the fact that for much of our history some of us have believed we were better than others for no other reason than the color of our skin, that some were less human than others (3/5!) or not at all. All of us carry the wound of America’s original sin, sometimes in ways we cannot imagine.
My deepest thanks to Jennifer Cumberbatch, and to the Neill-Cochran House Museum for opening itself to this enigmatic project. My expression comes from my own experience, thus what you see are iconic objects from white, middle-class American privilege. Consider what your own experience might add or subtract, or interpret differently. This is “slow art.” Ponder your own questions and come back for a performance and a second look. Thank you for coming.