This new series of works — “Masks” (2020) — is based on the long-suppressed African heritage of my family and the rediscovery of our relation to the Atlantic slave trade.
Drawing on my Caribbean-African heritage, I have produced a catalog of graphic images that refer to the cataclysmic history of the Middle Passage. For me, these images are function as icons, providing a salutary corrective to the received narrative of my ancestry. As depictions of race, they contribute to contemporary conversations around the visual culture of “race” in our society and insert it in future conversations about inherited religion, politics and culture.
Africans who were forcibly brought to America and lived as enslaved peoples were ripped from their homeland and their culture. They were deprived of their customs, religion, family, politics and other social mores. To survive, they rebuilt their individual and collective identities as best they could. Often, their memories of the past, or the stories of their elders, remained their sole connection to their past.
Imagined in this way, the experience of the Middle Passage for these enslaved peoples turned the sea into a portal to oblivion. Throughout the 400 years of the history of slavery in the Americas, this story has been told principally by those who enslaved Africans. This is changing slowly. As a result, events, characters, and personal accounts of enslaved peoples are circulating, making it possible at last for the descendants of enslaved peoples to be able to trace, recover, and reclaim that missing piece of their identity.