Walking around with slave blood was never going to be easy, and it has never been promised to us to be anything other than loss and anguish.
The nature of having slave blood is loss, removal, disappearance and death.
Walking through the West African Word Symbol Song exhibition and rifling through the archives of the African and Americas collection for the creation of this project has been an experience of pain and frustration that I feel anguish yet again.
When you are lost and confused and have to come to the very institutions that helped you need a map it is nothing short of blood curdling to sit in these gilded rooms and read how the my ancestors were constructed and distorted.
I have not found it easy or enjoyable to interact with the long and contested history of whiteness studying blackness. But this is where I find myself, with a need to find questions, find answers and so here I am asking the master back for my history.
What a dislocating experience it is to see your culture in boxes, preserved, misspelt, misunderstood. What an embarrassment it is to have whiteness understand your blackness more than you. A bitter taste does that leave when they have studied you and you have always been you, but it seems they can still say they know more than you.
And this is the power of whiteness, this is the legacy of colonisation, this is the experience of so many, and my experience of having slave blood, and this is what I have felt whilst rummaging through the archive.
Much of the time I have felt sick, embarrassed, a deep deep pain that is un-shiftable and a shock at the ease with which others peruse my pain. It has not been an easy to lay out my intestine for the birds to pick at just to come back another day and do the same thing. But here we are, this is what my work needs. This is why I am making this piece, because I had this thought, “What Kind of Slave Would I Be?” and so here I am trying to find out.
Creating a project that has a desire to anchor fantasy in truth is why I want to look at the collections within the British Library. It not because I believe the only truth of my history is to be found in these walls, no, it is because there is an accepted truth that walks along western formations of time and fact. It is interesting for me to lay those truths down along the countless stories told to me about uprisings, why my hair is a little straight and just how we came to be a family of at the last count of Rastafarian, Muslim, Jews, Latinx with indigenous Arawak Indian blood from Guyana.
The truth becomes a flexible concept when much of it has been stolen from your collective mouths and put back into Perspex box, lit on a diagonal and takes two weeks to arrive out of storage. An absoluteness is not what I am trying to locate, for I have much faith in the verbal stories of my people as been told over generations that defy the concept of time and geography- and that they are true.
I must- because the cruelty, and disregard for life that has landed me here is beyond my imagination, yet we know it happened.
So who am I then to challenge the validity of what I cannot imagine or makes little sense?
Who is you?
What does that mean? It means believing in the nonsensical is part of having slave blood, believing in the fantasy of a new place, a new time and a new future that makes no sense is the domain of the oppressed. This work will make no sense, this work will be a fantasy grounded in truth.
Working with the multiple collections at the archive has been a process of being moved, pushed shifted.
Yes there have been individual pieces that I have found interesting, and I will focus on them for my next blog entries, but what I want you to know now, is that it is the physical experience, the nausea, the discomfort, anger, contempt, joy, shock, recognition, frustration, tears that have shaped this piece of work more than any one item could. This blog is about the collection as a whole. The building as a whole.
Understanding that my relationship to story, truth, future and realness is formed by the lack of choices I have OR feel I have around grounding stories in so called fact has been formed by being in residence here at the British Library.
What kind of slave would I be? One that could fly.