Continuing on the thread of looking back (for me) and introducing you to some of my past work…I revisit another triptych from my undergraduate career titled: “Strange Fruit.”
This piece was inspired by the poem/song, Strange Fruit, as it was sung in 1939 by Billie Holliday. In this work I strove to push the concept of “strange fruit” in multiple directions. While this work is about lynching, it also is a space where I am simultaneously discussing my divided heritage as a biracial individual. Strange Fruit as Billie Holliday mournfully reflects is a direct metaphor for the lynched bodies of black people. In this piece try to position myself as a kind of Strange Fruit as well, as I attempt to navigate through my conflicting existence and tragic personal history as both the mob and its victims.
At the time of this work in 2007, I was interested in working through a deep critical analysis of my own personal identity and perhaps point to the complicated ways history and identity intersect on the body. I was then and still am interested in notions of a divided and/or multifaceted self and how certain divisions are in conflict AND communion with each other. Growing up I felt as thought was neither black nor white enough to be fully accepted into either community; always on the fringes I have been stretched and torn in ways that still affect how I look at myself and how I relate to others today.
This piece ultimately boils down to a three panel photo-paint collage on stretched canvas. The focal images are self-portraits taken using film that was then darkroom processed. The central canvas most literally depicts a kind of family tree, where photos of my family are transferred on to the painting itself. Each individual appears out of the bark as witnesses to a silent lynching, a ghost-like lynching. The rope hangs three-dimensional in thin air; each viewer of the piece becoming a spectator/ participant.
Sometimes I have imaged myself as the victim to this particular lynching as my body grips and becomes the tree from which time cannot be erased. It haunts me that presumably most trees that have ever bore witness to such violent and heinous crimes still stand; beautiful bark, rings, and leaves stained with the blood of black people forever. Whether today I am regarded or self-situated as the mob or the victims of these atrocious spectacles; there will always be blood on these roots. Ultimately, this is what this piece is about. At once it becomes a memorial, a sight of acknowledging a lineage of participation and also mourning all those lost to lynching in a frighteningly not so distance past.
Check out Billy Holliday’s song. It is as timeless as it is haunting.