"I took a look at them and they was all laid out in different ways, all making some kind of body and there was big bones and little bones, chips, tidbits, skulls, fingers and everything. I shut my mouth then. I knowed I was into somethin' ."
Everybody knows I been here ever since there's been a here, even helped dig the first foundation.
On the basis of some information and a little bit of guess work you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to recontruct the world these remains imply.
The Site of Memory
I find these to be powerful quotations. In their reference to the past, they conjure up untold stories and suppressed histories.
Like these quotations, my work in this exhibition also refers to the past, specifically the recent discovery and excavation of an 18th century African American burial ground in lower Manhattan. As archaeologists examine the remains of 400 skeletons, and decipher meaning in the beads, shells and buttons fragments found in their graves, I am compelled to create images about them. The anonymous individuals who lived and labored in New Amsterdam, whose names and stories are lost forever, haunt my imagination.
Since 1987 my work has been influenced by genealogical research. Family history, and those of the diaspora have inspired me to create work that addresses deleted and suppressed stories. The layered surfaces of these paintings veil and obscure fragmented spectral images beneath the surface. They invite the viewer to explore, but they resist giving up all of their secrets. In the small drawings, text fragments are woven into narrative accompanying the image. These provide some historical context but also offer no obvious answer. They are invented histories, narratives which offer a momentary glimpse into an unrecorded but significant life. As the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has written, human lives 'merit' narration not only because they can be examplary and heroic, but also because they should not be forgotten.