Tag Archives: Emmett Till

Old Stories Told in New Ways: Memory Landscapes Revisited

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Last weekend, we were both at FOGcon, and Laurie presented her Memory Landscapes project in a Saturday evening panel, which Debbie (of course!) was on. Attendance was small, which gave us the gift of intimacy. “Audience” and “panelists” gathered around a table with the artist, to look closely at the work and talk about what we were seeing.

Laurie says: “Since the election, I had been thinking that I would have to put Memory Landscapes on hold, or at least move much more slowly on it, because I felt such a drive to focus on directly political work. What this panel reminded me is that the Memory Landscapes project is political work. It’s about my life, during which I have always been deeply involved with politics and the world. It’s also about the things that have changed in my life and the things that have not changed. It’s about political struggle, and political pain and joy, along with all the other aspects of my life.”
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Handkerchief

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One Memory Landscapes image we looked at was “Handkerchief,” which speaks directly to the murder of Emmet Till in 1955 and the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. By linking these two deaths, Handkerchief invokes the never-ending stream of young black men’s violent deaths in the intervening years, and links both murders to Laurie’s world, to the political struggles of the 1950s, and much more.
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Shawl

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Here’s Laurie again: “Watching the people at the panel interact with these memories, I realized I can’t stop working on Memory Landscapes. Not only is this shared political work, it offers people an opportunity to allow and access their own stories (personal and political) in an entirely new way. When we tell stories in any form of text, or in a linear narrative such as film, we impose a structure on them. We change them by their nature from an associative chain to a structured tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In this work which I invented to be the best mirror of my own memories that I could devise, something more happens than my being able to express my own memories in the way they work. Other people start experiencing their memories this way too: they take my framework and apply it to their own lives and to the interaction of my political history with theirs.”

We are both huge fans of narrative, even though we understand the ways in which it is false by nature. Narrative is one thing that got us where we are today. False but compelling narrative is one of Donald Trump’s great strengths, and one of the great strengths of his surrogates, who are our enemies.

Suzy McKee Charnas, in her first novel, Walk to the End of the World, said “New stories must be told in new ways.” Audre Lorde said “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” What the panel reminded Laurie, and perhaps taught the rest of us, is that Memory Landscapes is a new kind of storytelling which applies to old stories as well as to new ones. And perhaps it will be a new tool to dismantle the house that cannot stand.

 

Handkerchief: From my Memories

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Laurie says:

This is one of the major photographs from Memory Landscape Memoir, my work in progress. I’m trying to create an aesthetic of memory, so the photographs get very complex and layered. But these bad times make me want to show this image with a direct immediate story. It’s a very different way of doing this for me, but in this moment it feels right.

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from Memory Landscapes

The black and white photo is of the The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, which took place on May 17, 1957, when a crowd of over thirty thousand nonviolent demonstrators, from more than thirty states, gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Somewhere in that crowd are me and my friend Pat Sexton. We had come down from NYC on the bus with an NAACP group from Jamaica, Queens.

The young woman in the photo is me at about the age I was in 1957.

1954 is the last year Emmett Till was alive. He died when I was twelve. story of his death and the images of his battered body made a deep impression on me then.

The 9mm bullets and shells are like the bullets that murdered Trayvon Martin in 2013

Aces and Eights are the “Dead Man’s Hand”. Wild Bill Hickock was holding it when he was gunned down.

The white handkerchief represents the handkerchiefs they asked us to wave rather then applaud the speakers since it was a prayer pilgrimage. The air was filled with waving handkerchiefs. That created very intense energy–far more then applause would have.