I know, I know, the line ends with "to Thee" but, give me a chance to explain, please. Thank you. Okay. So I've been doing some genealogical research, superficial stuff to be honest. I'm not trying to find anything groundbreaking or earth shattering. I'm not trying to spill any generational tea or anything, I just want to know the names of all my ancestors as far back as I can go.
So far, I've gone back to 3 of my grandparents' grandparents, and it's been exciting and empowering in a way I don't know how to verbalize. The world has a way of trying to make me feel, singular, almost like I just burst forth fully formed and ready, like Athena. That kind of narrative doesn't jive with my understanding of Black culture at all. So this kind of work is helpful in aligning me to something larger and more expansive than I could've imagined. A more comprehensive idea of family.
The morning after I'd found as many names as I could (which was a lot, but I got tired of staring at the computer screen), I pulled out some felt, scissors and glue and got to work. I was creating this on an upcycled canvas that I'd painted leaves on. I wanted to create something to represent the men in my bloodline. Most of them were, as you can imagine, farmers. Some of them were born right at the end of enslavement, some were born enslaved. I'm from a small, rural part of the world, so none of this was surprising. A few of my ancestors knew each other, as you can imagine. Many of them attended the same church, helped each other out on their farms, et cetera. A few of them were illiterate, but married women who were literate and made sure their children were literate. Some of them died relatively young of diseases that are no longer life threatening. As I cut the pieces, I wondered how they felt knowing they had a descendant who was not only literate, but had spent years of her life studying words and sentences. I digress.
I started by drawing faces with gold, black, and white marker. Initially, I thought this would be a peek a boo, mixed media piece. What I mean by that is, there would be places where the felt gave way to the faces underneath. But as I started laying the pieces out and adding layers, I realized that the important part was the layers themselves, as metaphor for the generations of people whose names would not be part of the public record. They're "hidden" in some ways, but that lack of "acknowledgement" in no way detracts from their existence. The evidence is the lineage. I am the evidence.
I continued adding layers with the two colors of felt, and now that I had a clearer understanding of why it needed to look the way it was looking, I was really excited about the progress.
The last step was to add their names. This to me was the best part because I'd finally had more names to add. I knew who they were, at least some of them, and I felt connected to them because we'd walked some of the same land. Even though they were long gone, my father included, they were right there because I could call their names. So I took a white Posca marker and added their names to the border. My fathers. I hope they like it.