What Are We Claiming?
What Are We Claiming? is an exhibition that highlights two individual’s family histories, and the stories that they inherited, discovered, and imagined. On view at the InLiquid Gallery from April 23 through June 11, the stories from included artists Cheryl Harper and rod jones ii cover the transcontinental slave trade, the modern Black experience, and the Jewish diaspora. To tell these complicated stories, What Are We Claiming? investigates the idea of the family heirloom as a starting place for descendants to investigate the narrative of their lineage, and have a chance to rewrite history previously assumed.
The InLiquid Gallery is open from Wednesday – Saturday, noon – 6 pm; appointments on Calendly are appreciated but not required.
Reflecting her background as a historian, Cheryl Harper’s approach to studying her family’s history is rooted in research and traditional ideas of linear history. Her included series Passages: An Installation in Progress investigates the two stories of her household: her own as a descendant of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, and her husband’s as a descendant of French colonists who settled in what is now South Carolina and built a working plantation using enslaved labor. There is a sharp contrast between Harper’s and her husband’s family heirlooms in both amount, and quality. Harper’s own collection of family possessions are modest and include a pair of deeply worn English brass candlesticks that were used in lighting Sabbath candles and a brass plate, brought to this country in a sack by her great-grandmother when she left her Russian village. Harper’s husband’s family objects, on the other hand, include preserved elaborate silver service-ware pieces.
These possessions, along with others from both sides of Harper’s family, are presented as the actual artifact, and used not only as a source of inspiration for additional works included in the exhibition, but as the impetus for the genealogical research that Harper conducts. Harper’s research and work compels the viewer to question where in the spectrum of privilege they and their families reside.
rod jones ii’s approach is philosophical, meditative, and spiritual. In this new body of work he investigates his family lineage and has made what he refers to as “heirlooms.” These “heirlooms” build something that jones often refers to as an “archive from da land of da funkdafied” which instead of archiving, documenting, and preserving the past, presents possible realities for himself, as a queer Black man, and his ancestors. These realities are surreal and metaphysical, free from privilege, power systems, history, fact, gravity, and air.
Unlike Harper, jones has no definitive knowledge of his family’s history beyond his great grandparents and has no photos or traditional artifacts. jones meditates on and interrogates symbols, caricatures, archetypes, images, and objects of Black people throughout history. Instead of presenting the results of his findings as concrete facts, jones’ work offers amorphous new ways that we may be able to imagine his ancestors, himself, and by extension our own selves.
jones’ approach is rooted in decolonization and in challenging the ideas of an archive being a monolithic truth. His work challenges viewers to fundamentally decolonize the way that they even consider their familiar history from one of academic research to one of spiritual research. They are manifestations of spiritual meditation that allow him to honor his ancestor’s power as spiritual beings.
By exploring Harper and jones’ histories and the objects that represent it, What Are We Claiming? seeks to explore human movement, power struggles, hierarchical systems, and the opportunity that we have now to rewrite the history that was written by those in power, and we have too long accepted without question.