Ode to Soil, 2020
Performance // Meadowcreek Golf Course at Pen Park and Farmington Country Club, Charlottesville, VA // 4 hrs // 2020. Photos taken by Morgan Aschom.
"Wake work refuses to silence the ongoing past, it brings a radically different kind of care to bear on the present." -Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
Ode to Soil, explores landscapes and activates the soil in Charlottesville, Va where Black life and histories have been seemingly erased. As I continue to explore ideas of amnesia and what it means to be surviving, I turn to the soil as a living archive, a method of Black resistance and breath.
The performance began by visiting my great-grandmother’s house in Madison, Va. I dig up her yucca, perennials, and resurrection lilies that have been planted in her yard since the property was granted to the family following emancipation. These resilient plants were commonly used in older African American and enslaved cemeteries to mark the graves of their loved ones due to the expense of headstones.
As the sun rose, I took the plants to Pen Park, a former antebellum plantation turned recreation park and golf course. Within Pen Park’s golf course lies a cemetery for the former families who owned the plantation. Surrounding the cemetery are forty-three unmarked slave graves. Without permission, I entered the golf course and planted my great-grandmother’s yucca, perennials, and resurrection lilies to mark each grave. With the plants, I then walked to the hanging tree in front of Farmington Country Club. I walked the same train tracks John Henry James, a Black man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman in Pen Park, was abducted on before being lynched. I planted a Yucca by the hanging tree. I did this in my grandpa’s old jean overalls. After I finished planting, I blessed the soil, watered the plants, and left the space.
I am not interested in memorial qua memorial, or the instrumentalization of black suffering for knowledge and healing. The acts of planting have been passed down from my great grandmother to grandfather, mother, and now to me. Planting is used as a form of care for these places and people who were never meant to be remembered especially in a way that tends to them with any kind of tenderness, care, or regard. I ask the viewer to consider how culture and memory are preserved and how yucca can pose an alternative version of a memorial, one that creates life and prompts care. The act of planting also serves as a metaphor for the tendency of our nation to forget it continues to grow on the institution of slavery and free Black and Brown labor (emotional and physical).
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