Touched by history; my afternoon with Juan Logan.

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.”           

 Ghost & Juan Logan 

Ghost & Juan Logan 

Pialli; (is my absolute favorite word) it’s a form of goodbye in Nahuatl that roughly translates to “I will carry you in my heart with joy until the next time our paths converge.”

For more information on Juan Logan's Artwork