But The Real Ones, Just like You, Just Like Me.  Couva, Trinidad (2021)

But the real ones, just like you, just like me, is the 1st part of 3 performances, which take place in a sugar cane field in Couva, Trinidad. In the performance, I “clean” a sugar cast of an AirJordan 1’s. I scrub with a brush and rub with my hands until the shoe dissolves. As it melts, certain parts shoe get sharper, and it cuts my hands as I try to “rub it clean”. No longer the shoe gets “cleaned” with just a brush and water but is also being “cleaned” with blood.

Not too far away from where the performance took place, there is housing developments, schools and recreational spaces. There is an abandoned sugar factory called Brechin Castle, which has been closed and empty since 2003. Nearby, there is also a school and a golf course.There is sugar cane, houses, a cricket/soccer field and a basketball court. What does it mean for some of these areas to become housing developments, soccer fields, or recreation areas?

I layer the AJ1’s and sugar to reference different periods of exploitation and profiteering off ofBlack people. Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the late 1400s to the early 1800s, when we became a British Colony. “The crop one found here was not sugar, but cotton”. EnslavedAfricans and indentured workers of Indian descent worked in these sugar plantations. In 1937, these sugar estates eventually became Caroni Ltd (Brechin Castle). The sugar industry inTrinidad finally collapsed in the early 2000s.

The branding behind Air Jordans and Michael Jordan was one of the few representations of successful Black men for me while growing up in Venezuela. On the other hand, it also became a synonym of being a Mono2 or Macaco. In other countries like Chile, they would use the word Flaite , which derives from the counterfeit version called Flight Air. The AJ1’s is such an iconic item within Black culture —utilize  the success of Black athletes as a marketing strategy to sell it to its primary consumer, the black community.

With this performance, I try to establish a link between the material and the object and the new ways in which capitalism has managed to exploit Black folks.

I stand in this cane field where my enslaved ancestors were forced to work the land, with this counterfeit version of AJ1’s, giving the sugar back to the soil. Making it disappear.

This work was commissioned by The University of Chicago

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