a #createaspaceNOW work
It was the portraits of enslaved Black people, the juxtaposition of beauty and pain, in each picture, and how it parallels with our present-day climate of racism, specifically surrounding the murder of George Floyd, was the inspiration for this new piece.
Our history, our reality...
Back then, lynchings didn’t have to be captured on video because it was every day commonplace, and even sport for many. It was the law. It was legal.
A constant reminder for enslaved Black people to “stay in their place”. Back when the rules were black and white, Black skin was meant to serve. Black bodies were meant to be broken, self-healed, then broken again. Black minds, however, had no use at all. To see these Black people, enslaved, posed, and captured all over again, in a photograph, portraying such “glory”, is a reminder that hundreds of years later, the senseless war on Black bodies still exists. In some ways, the laws of Jim Crow are very much the fine print of today's reality.
My Black freedom is the unbothered white man's threat.
My Black life has to be fought for.
There was one portrait in particular, of an enslaved Black woman that I could not stop looking at. Her body, sitting, properly placed. Hands, one on top of the other. Her head positioned not to face directly towards the camera but tilted off to the side. She was dressed beautifully. Adorned with layers of fabric from head to feet, resting upon a table with nothing else surrounding her.
This photo was not her reality. This was not who she was. Everything about the photo was a lie, except for her eyes. A distant stare. Her eyes, had no flicker in them, glazed over. As if she had stared at pain for too long and her tears could no longer be produced.
So, I cried for her.
I knew, in that portrait, her body was placed exactly the way her white master commanded it to be. I knew the fine linen that was draped over her Black skin was covering bruises, cracked, and scarred. I knew, the chair she sat on held the weight of her world, her unhinged back, and warped spine, from years of unpaid labor. Her undergarments, securing her most private of parts, soiled below with dried blood, resulting from a life of rape disguised as service, holding the stench of spoiled breast milk which leaked consistently for her oppressor's children.
This was her reality. When gazing at her, I couldn’t help but think the withdrawn eyes, her eyes, were eyes that witnessed death before, during, and after that picture was taken.
This work is dedicated to her.
A woman who appeared to have no choice but to normalize the actual definition of hell.
This work is dedicated to him.
A man who was murdered by suffocation, publicly.
This work is dedicated to their Black lives.
To our Black lives. To my Black life.
Written & Performed by Hettie Barnhill
Music & Video Produced/Edited by Robert Gertler
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“Power, knowledge, and truth stemming from art.”
- Peter Lam
“It’s not about whether or not you are black. It is about
continuing the conversation until it gets so loud, so
contagious, that the only possible outcome is change.”
- Lauren Schofield
“It’s honest, raw, powerful, and necessary.”
- Christine Grounds
“This is where humanity lies.”
- Bianca Golden
"I am at a loss of words as to the
pain I feel."
- Eve Fulton
"Beautiful and profoundly true."
- Terese Domenech
"Creating space for discussion, healing,
and everything in between."
- Erika Shannon Hathaway