CEE | Center for Experimental Ethnography
A blog of the Center for Experimental Ethnography
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Emily Carris began her presentation posing a question she first asked during her studies in photography in England, while contemplating an image of a slave ship in a tumultuous ocean.... "what does salt know?" Seven years later, Emily returned to Philadelphia where she contemplated the possibilities of a space that joined art production, research, and community intervention, eventually founding the Art Dept. Collective in Fishtown, Philadelphia. In her own art practice, Emily began intensively researching the medium and materiality of dyes, textiles, fibres, and medicines in her work with archival portraiture and imagery of enslaved persons. In a memorable example, Emily described how she worked to craft an iron dye by submerging antique slave shackles in alcohol where they slowly dissolve. Engaging with Black women’s traditions of quilting, textile work, and healing, one of Emily’s most exhibited pieces features indigo and silk matta root embroidered over the raised whip scars on a famous portrait of “Peter,” an enslaved man who escaped from a Louisiana plantation in 1868. She is following this interest in textiles and quilting to explore the concept of armor as clothing, and the powerful historical intersections of quilting and warrior culture.
Following Emily Carris's presentation, dr. Prof. Wayne Modest began by introducing his current project as the Director of the Research Center for Material Culture (RCMC). The RCMC is ann integrated center for research into ethnographic collections in the Netherlands exploring the meanings, political histories, and material flows that objects in these collections raise. He began his talk with an insightful provocation: “What happens to a history of design if we look outside the West...or teach a history of photography starting in 1842 in Jamaica rather than one starting in 1839 in Europe?” Pointing to the other histories that remain to be written, and the voices that remain to speak, Wayne argued that ethnographic objects in these collections carry within them ways of thinking history and write history otherwise. Museums can choose to draw attention to these revolutionary potentials, and in so doing call attention to, and work to un-silence, the systematic muting of the colonial violence and harm that these collections often emerged out of. Wayne highlighted the importance of asking, rather than just assuming, whether or not museums as “salvage” institutions borne out of the colonial projects driving people’s to extinction in the first place, can be or should be repaired