The Impossibility. Virginia, US (2020)
I have used palm oil in several works. Palm oil, combined with gunpowder and lemon juice, was poured over slaves to cover bruises and marks before they were sold. There is an interesting layering that happens here with palm oil as a commodity but also the enslaved as a commodity. Previously, in a performance, I covered my body with palm oil. The obvious next step was to create casts in an attempt to merge these two. While walking in Richmond, Virginia , I started picking up bricks to use as a base to place my casts. Part of my research led me to the history of the brick in the US, where slaves would harvest clay from the James River to make bricks. Based on the research I decided to create a monument, where the casts would lay on top of another to impart the sense of a pile of bodies. Eventually, these palm oil body casts melt and disappear. The large cube/base made of 1000-1400 bricks is the only thing that would remain, giving the sense of a removed monument.
The following weeks after the performance, I proceeded to go back to the site of the performance to collect bricks. I would collect 10 - 15 bricks at a time to place them back to the locations that I took them from. Due to the palm, gunpowder and lemon juice that melted on them, the bricks would stained with this mixture. This act would reinforce the removal of my action and my temporary monument. I consider these stained bricks that are embedded on the sidewalks of the city of Richmond as small invisible memorials. The markers in the map above are a few locations where bricks were placed back.
The realization of this project was not possible without the help of the community around me. Mena Sehay, Mahari Chabwera, Ciyani Smith, LaRissa Rogers, Kelley-Ann Lindo, John Chae and Bryan Castro, These are only the folks who helped me with casts, collecting bricks and the performance. There is a much wider community that helped with the moving and refrigeration logistics. It is important to point out that it took many folks to move over 1000 bricks and 4 - 6 tons of palm oil casts in several occasions. Invisible labour is a constant occurrence in my practice, and the documentation lacks to show all the pre and post labour by BIPOC folks. I am aware of these invisible acts. How do we make labour visible and how do we compensate it?