Artist-in-residence and professor “memorialize” Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde in dialogue


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“Memorializing” partnership between Northwestern and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

Yunkyo Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

Artist-in-residence M. Carmen Lane and art theory and practice Prof. Michael Rakowitz engaged in a conversation about ancestry, dispossession and expression at Tuesday’s session of Memorializing Dialogue at the Block Museum of Art.

“Memorializing” is a year-long conversation series hosted in partnership between Northwestern and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities. It invites distinguished artists and scholars to have candid discussions on “commemorating, contesting and claiming.”

But the conversation between Lane and Rakowitz took a particularly timely meaning — Feb. 18 marks the posthumous birthdays of Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison. The dialogue between the artists commemorated Lorde and Morrison’s legacies, structured by textual prompts from the authors’ works.

Citing a famous Morrison quote — “when you kill the ancestor, you kill yourself,” — Lane said family history was important to preserve because it represented memories from generations of their family lost due to slavery and move from the rural South to urban North.

“In my own family and in my own work, I’m (attempting) to reclaim relationships between the ancestors because I am aware of the costs of their absence,” they said. “I really see my work as a human being and as an artist to really complete things and to have no unfinished business in my own family line.”

In doing so, Lane’s work also touches heavily upon death and mourning as a theme. Their 2018 art piece, “Ken’nahsa:ke/Khson:ne: On My Tongue, On My Back (Family Tree),” displayed a table sitting in front of red wallpaper surrounded by Lane’s family artifacts.

The mixed-media construction with a black body bag represents the mistreatment of the body of Lane’s great-grandmother, which represents the impact of intergenerational trauma, they said.

The artist, writer and doula also founded and directed ATNSC: Center for Healing & Creative Leadership, an urban retreat space and experience, devoted to leadership and healing.

Presenting an old photograph of his grandmother and mother taken in Baghdad, Rakowitz discussed the Iraqi-American experience after 9/11. Despite fighting against sentiments of hostility and discrimination of performing his ethnic identity, Rakowitz said his parents chose to preserve his culture.

Rakowitz initiated paraSITE in 1998, an ongoing project in which the artist built customized inflatable shelters for homeless people, which attach to exterior vents of a building to provide a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system.

In 2018, the artist also installed a 14-foot winged sculpture depicting the Lamassu, a Sumerian Protective deity entitled “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist.”

Angela Tate, a third-year graduate student studying history, said she came to the event because she also creates art rooted in activism. Having extensively studied museums and the process for art pieces, she said she wanted to observe an important conversation.

“Institutions that hold archives tend to be spaces that have traditionally just collected like white families, prominent people,” Tate said. “If you are actually doing this work, you are doing the work of an archivist.”

Lisa Corrin, director of Block Museum, attended the event. She said the featured artists both created moving and innovative works.

It is important that both artists memorialized Lorde and Morrison, Corrin said. Given their transformative works, she said the conversation between the artists demonstrates what makes their art “tick.”

“Here is an artist who is taking that form and connecting it to their personal history, but making a statement that has universal significance, because it’s about the ancestors which we all have,” Corrin said. “I think the work is quite very beautiful.”

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