Unlike every other day, today I stumbled into something surreal. I took a curatorial day-trip to North Carolina where I met Jonell Logan the Director of Education and Public Programs at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She kindly lead me through the exhibit Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness, spoke to me about the artworks on display and had lunch with me and a portion of the CMA Curatorial Staff.
During Lunch I had the privilege and honor of meeting one of the most fascinating individuals that I have ever come across (coincidentally Jonell’s husband) Juan Logan. He and I quickly became friends and split a piece of chocolate cake while discussing racism, relocation, subjectivity, privilege and color blindness. As I began to listen to him speak about the artwork he produces and his upcoming projects I became fascinated with the ease in which Juan could speak about such critical subject matter. During our conversation I mentioned that this was my first time in the South and he said “if you are brave enough, I can share with you a portion of history later…”
We arrived at his studio and what happened in this space was an experience far beyond the depths of my imagination. As soon as I came into this space I was incredibly captivated by the history that surrounded the place. Juan had “about 40 years of work” within his studio (as he so gracefully put it). I happily followed him around as he showed me work, after work. He answered every possible question I could come up with, and the more I learned the more I fell in love with what I saw.
During our studio art-hunt he briefly mentioned bits and pieces of the history of his ancestors; we discussed slavery, white privilege and racism… heavy, strong, painfully charged subjects. As we ventured into the depths of his studio he pulled out 6 prints from one of the drawers, looked at me and said, “these are the works we spoke about (during lunch), those I wanted to show you.” I quickly followed him to one of the working tables and he laid them out in front of me.
“This series is called Ghost… what do you see?” I looked and looked but could not make out any single clue that could give me a hint about the images I was looking at. To me they where fluid, these dark squares in front of me each showed me a form, a form I had not seen, something that was unfamiliar, something new, something strange, something that intrigued me but at this point I was unaware as to why.
Juan began to pull foreign objects from a near by box. He held in his very hands the objects from the photographs. One by one he showed me leg irons, shackles and finally an Iron neck ring. I stood there perplexed at what I was seeing and partly in disbelieve that he was holding such painful pieces of history in his very hands in front of me; he made his way toward me, Iron neck ring in hand and placed this foreign object around my neck.
For a single instance…
I felt the weight of history around my neck.
I psychologically occupied a space foreign to my time, my place and my kind.
I felt other to my own self as chills went down my spine.
A piece of iron made me feel lesser than, it made me feel humble and weak, it made me…
I do not assume that this single instance made me aware of African American history in all its complexity, nor do I believe that because of this moment I am a better person. This is but a step in my journey into color blindness. This is but an instance...
Thank You Jonelle & Juan for this grain of critical awareness “Pialli.”