In the Americas, the forced removal of our African and native languages has contributed to erasing our history. The hood kids had it right. Their angst is part of an internal struggle against assimilation. Sunu Gaal translates as "our boat" in a language native to western Africa. Nearly half of the Africans forcibly brought to the united states came from these regions.
Reconfiguration is Rebellion
I am an artist. My movements are a series of expressions that detail my history and my present. Both the visual object and performance are part of those expressions. We are orchestrating a series of movements, objects and conversations to reestablish our identities and contribute to Suma Mbok. Our art is a response to alienation.
by Stephon Senegal
“Fuck you my nigga!” His voice carried with force. The irony of being “his nigga” and spurned all at once. Cohorts near. We stood center in that customary circle, our makeshift coliseum. Something familiar from my youth. To my sides and rear stood our audience. Tapping their feet, waiting for the competition to begin. Some were friends, most caged observers. The contest for that day had not escalated, for now this would be one on one. We were all Black, negros, niggas and twentysomethings, typical for this area. These occasions were like real life rehearsals for us, a brand of hood improv. The stakes were high, but not that high. We were there to test our mettle, not save our people. He began to come closer. I asked him again as I did before his previous outburst, if his posture was a true signal of what he desired. Not in those words, but that was the gist. His response was in the affirmative. . . . .
The census has overtly dismantled African and Native American identities since its inception. This installation series presents strategies to lift the veil of deceit embedded in how European led governments count others. What does it mean to be counted and marked in a system built on Black and Brown labor and exclusion?
by Stephon Senegal
I sit here. Puzzled by the way they describe me, or at least my people. I have always been uncomfortable with certain labels. The compulsory monikers that guide our daily. Equally perplexing is the modern scholar’s assimilation. They do so easily, the Negro ones. Maybe they know something different from the books they read or the “battles” they fought. Maybe I simply need to read more. Nonetheless, those labels guide our dealings in the mundane and the perilous. In war and pandemic, those labels find permanence. Guiding sympathy and directing vehemence. There is something to these labels and marks. They are so ingrained, nearly indiscernible from, and now synonymous with. An unnerving judgement of a people hidden discretely in their lines of statutes. Catalogued in annals of twisted scripture and dubious regulation. Such is the case with race.. . . . .
We did not choose, nor have we accepted the stain of enslavement. The American telling of chattel slavery casually excludes our rebellion. Dread Scott took this narrative head on and lead hundreds into history with the reenactment of the largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States. In 1811, an unlikely band of maroons and slaves rose to burn and pillage the German Coast in southern Louisiana. The actual rebellion took place in the river parishes outside of New Orleans. We marched nearly twenty-eight miles in our performance of the rebellion. One of my assignments in the production was to strike down Manuel Andry (or the actor playing that part) of the Andry plantation. Symbolically, the first blow. Part performance and part film production, the project involved over two hundred reenactors in period specific clothing. Filmmaker John Akomfrah documented the reenactment.
by Marissa Fessenden
Official accounts at the time spun the fiction that the revolt was nearly a band of “‘brigands’ out to pillage and plunder,” writes Wendell Hassan Marsh for The Root. But this was the story of the victors— Rasmussen found through the course of his research, not the story of what happened. In reality, the revolt was carefully organized and it threatened to destabilize the institution of slavery in Louisiana.
To uncover the real story, Rasmussen pored through court records and plantation ledgers. “I realized that the revolt had been much larger—and come much closer to succeeding—than the planters and American officials let on,” he tells Littice Bacon-Blood of the Times-Picayune. “Contrary to their letters, which are the basis for most accounts of the revolt, the slave army posed an existential threat to white control over the city of New Orleans.”. . . .
"As the historian Matthew Frye Jacobson shows in his immigrant history “Whiteness of a Different Color,” the surge of newcomers engendered a national panic and led Americans to adopt a more restrictive, politicized view of how whiteness was to be allocated. Journalists, politicians, social scientists and immigration officials embraced the habit, separating ostensibly white Europeans into “races.” Some were designated “whiter” — and more worthy of citizenship — than others, while some were ranked as too close to blackness to be socially redeemable. The story of how Italian immigrants went from racialized pariah status in the 19th century to white Americans in good standing in the 20th offers a window onto the alchemy through which race is constructed in the United States, and how racial hierarchies can sometimes change. Darker skinned southern Italians endured the penalties of blackness on both sides of the Atlantic. In Italy, Northerners had long held that Southerners — particularly Sicilians — were an “uncivilized” and racially inferior people, too obviously African to be part of Europe." Brent Staples, "How Italians Became ‘White’" (2019), New York Times Company
by Stephon Senegal
A day in February. The one month set aside to reminiscence, however briefly, about the free labor that built this country. I am not particularly inclined to indulge in the celebrations, but nonetheless, people see Black when they see me. I am an artist, part of my practice involves installing public art in marginalized Black and Brown neighborhoods. Today, it has me in a smallish Pennsylvanian city. As I exit my lodging for the week, a winter white has blanketed the streets from last night. I begin my walk. Car after car passes as I navigate snow and slush to avoid getting the Chucks soaked. To the left a truck pulls up. I pay it little attention until I realize it is following slowly and keeping pace. I give it some discrete inspection as its pulls ahead to the stop sign ahead and waits. And then I remember, I am behind enemy lines, and these boys in blue are the reminder. . . . .
"Chinese immigration to the United States was far from unwelcome to begin with: For U.S. politicians, missionaries, and businessmen in the 1850s, Chinese migration was a part and a parcel of American advancement in the China Trade. The influx of Chinese workers, prompted by political and economic instability following the First Opium War, provided labor for a growing U.S. economy; at the same time the movement of laborers, merchants, scholars, and missionaries between the United States and China strengthened relations between the two countries. The ties that American expansionists embraced, however, angered white settlers"...."The majority of Chinese in America today arrived along with other East Asians, South Asians, and Southeast Asians after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which remade the socioeconomic and ethnic makeup of Asians in America by prioritizing family reunification and skilled workers. The influx of upwardly mobile immigrants became an opportunity for both conservatives and liberals to retire the “yellow peril” stereotype and recast Asian Americans as “successful immigrants,” politically amenable and capable of assimilating into white, middle-class America. Many Asian Americans, who had been stigmatized as communist infiltrators during the Red Scare of the ’50s, also promoted the model minority narrative to avoid further exclusion and violence. The careful fabrication of Asian success has in turn been used both to justify racism against other minorities and to erase socioeconomic and generational differences within Asian American communities." Irene Hsu, "The Echoes of Chinese Exclusion" (2018), The New Republic
by Stephon Senegal
Hip-hop culture is part of how my community connects. It is a representation of our story built from the trauma of chattel slavery and our resilience. Even though the spotlight of this party is famous Black and Brown, the crowd is overwhelmingly white and opulent. These are the type, I thought, they owned those plantations, robbed and whipped the melaninated, but tonight, they celebrated us or at least were entertained. . . . .
"In May of 1784, at the time of San Maló‟s most active resistance, the most recent Governor of the Louisiana colony was called away to the “Indian congresses in Pensacola and Mobile” (Din 1980:247). In the absence of Governor Miró, the acting governor in command of the military was Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Bouligny (Din 1980: 247). Bouligny accepted the responsibility for dealing with the band of maroons at the insistence of the white plantation owners (Din 1980:245). He gathered forces to pursue the band through the swamps of Ville Gaillarde. At one point San Maló and his band were reported to have killed a group of Americans in Bay St. Louis who captured his men. In their fight for freedom they turned on and killed their captors (Din 1980: 249; Hall 1992: 217). Din has this act occurring in May of 1784 but Hall portrays it as much earlier since it was part of the testimony of Juan Pedro who was captured in March of 1783 (Din 1980: 249; Hall 1992: 217). In either case this act made San Maló a reputed killer of whites and bolstered the determination of the Spanish officials in their desire to apprehend San Maló and bring order back to the colony (Hall 1992: 227)." Erin Elizabeth Voisin, "Saint Maló remembered" (2008)
by Stephon Senegal
The story of a negro reenacting negro enslavement and negro rebellion should not be compelling to descendants of enslavers, it should possibly be alarming. A number of months ago, I participated in a reenactment of the 1811 Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SRR) in New Orleans Louisiana. The reenactment was organized by artist Dread Scott. In January of 1811, led by mulatto Charles Deslondes, an unlikely band of maroons and slaves rose to burn and pillage their way through the German Coast in southern Louisiana. The actual rebellion, the largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States, took place in the river parishes outside of New Orleans. . . . .
This series is titled — Necessary Invisibles. One installation is placed on the building of Morse Lumber, a business in that area since 1857. Located on the westside of Main Street, they are an informal marker for the Black and Brown side of the city. the placement of this work alludes to the Black free labor that built this nation. The other installation is placed on the eastside of Main Street, a predominantly White area. Placed on the grounds of an Episcopal Church in Rochester established in 1855, This work addresses the historical abuse of our women. Nonetheless, our value is ours to claim, it is not the responsibility of others.
by Françoise Vergès
ʻWe are not the victims but the children of a crime against humanity.ʼ  Commemorations are important events in France. If, on the one hand, they offer the government the opportunity to reinforce a ʻcertain idea of Franceʼ, on the other hand they give historians, researchers and activists the possibility to revise and counter the ofﬁcial discourse. Many thought, therefore, that the one hundred and ﬁftieth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the French colonies in 1998 would receive the kind of attention France likes to bestow on such events. Many among us hoped that it would provoke a major reassessment of the place of the trade slave and of slavery in the constitution of French identity. There was indeed attention. Speeches were made; exhibitions organized; streets were renamed; prizes and rewards were given to Creole writers; teachers were asked to teach on slavery and its abolition; the small village of Champagney became the centre of the commemoration – its inhabitants, simple peasants, had demanded the end of slavery during the French Revolution. Yet, there was a sense that the ofﬁcial commemoration was producing a narrative that masked rather than confronted. . . .
Our families are marginalized by policies that shift resources away from communities of color. Nonetheless our growth will not come by policy but by our willingness to develop independence systems of sustainability. In this act of service, we fostered opportunities for urban families to learn about hydroponic growing programs within their neighborhoods.
The Black body has been under attack. The frequency of those attacks has received more attention. Nonetheless, the specific plight of Black women and girls goes largely unacknowledged. We should protect our woman and children, but simultaneously honor their strength and resourcefulness. In this act of service, we taught a group of young girls a variety of self-defense techniques.
The dilemma of inclusion for communities of color starts at a very early age. Youth hierarchy and specifically a child’s esteem hinges partially on their ability to participate in activities with their peers. In this act of service, we gifted young Black girls bicycles and riding lessons for those who needed.
Building a community requires reinforcing all its parts. It is especially important to lend resources to those without supportive guardians or peers. Black mothers are an important component of our families. In this act of service, we provided a multitude of bulk resources to young mothers and young girls in challenging environments.
There is an explicit attack on bodies of color, but neglect is an equally damaging tactic of disenfranchisement. The stealth of the food and water crisis in our communities has wrought a heavy price on our learning and health. In response to the water crisis, we delivered pallets of water to the residents and facilitated supplies for further delivery of much needed provisions.
The power of language cannot be overstated. In the absence of our original tongues, linguistics has covertly operated as a device of abuse. Nearly half of the Africans forcibly brought to the United States came from Senegambia – a part of present day Senegal. Wolof is a language spoken in Senegal and surrounding areas. This work was installed on the street where a lone Negro gunman victoriously battled several police officers. It uses a tongue indigenous to West Africa to translate a colloquialism used in our community.
by Sarah Pruitt
Though exact totals will never be known, the transatlantic slave trade is believed to have forcibly displaced some 12.5 million Africans between the 17th and 19th centuries; some 10.6 million survived the infamous Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Though descendants of these enslaved Africans now make up considerable segments of the population in the United States, Brazil and many Caribbean islands . . . .
Our communities have stories of heroism and rebellion. We should embrace those stories and pursue courage unapologetically. This piece was affixed on the South Bronx apartment where approximately nine police officers forcibly entered a residence to apprehend a suspect; a gun battle ensued. The negro gunman shot and wounded nearly all the police officers while escaping unharmed. He was later acquitted after being charged with the attempted murder of those police officers.
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage — And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. — James Baldwin Son, Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned. . . . .
A Black military veteran of Miami was chased and brutally beaten by four white police officers. The aftermath of those events and acquittal of those officers resulted in the 1980 Miami race riots. Starting at the Downtown Miami Metro Justice Building, the riots concentrated in Liberty City, Black Grove, Overtown and Brownsville. With the police cornered and overwhelmed by sniper fire and rampant reprisals, the governor sent in nearly 4000 National Guard troops to quell the uprising.
by Stephon Senegal
When I walked into the neighborhood, the sound and smell was familiar. This was Liberty City. Though the heyday of violence that once wrecked this neighborhood had waned some, its notoriety had not. Warmly known as Pork and Beans, the dope game has not yet released its hold. I recognized the stares from the young boys on the streets and the subsequent apathy from their customers. It was the early part of the day. I had already driven the streets the previous night and spoke with some of my hardhead brethren about the when and how of my arrival the next day. They assured me that they would not be a problem, and neither would the youngsters in the hood, but I should be wary of the police. . . . .
The notion of freedom is these communities is hindered by a multitude of factors, many unconscious, fueled by covert and caustic messaging. This series presents itself as a contrasting narrative, roused by the high speech of the Douglass broadside originally written as a “call to arms” for a people teetering on the edges of freedom. Today communities of color are instead covertly shackled to an existence that offers few options. Too often, productive dialogues about the most disenfranchised segments of the community take place in safe spaces far and away from the very peoples being discussed. And yet, the folklores of these communities are used to fuel profits and further dismantle African identities.
Transcript of speech by Frederick Douglass
He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study . . . .
The Jamaican Maroons are a group of former captives in the seventeenth century who were able to establish free communities in the mountainous interior and eastern parishes of Jamaica. They were a part of two wars for their freedom. The Windward Maroons and the Cockpit Country participated in the First Maroon War. This was resolved by government treaties from which the european aristocrats soon backtracked. The Second Maroon War involved the Leeward Maroons who eventually found their way to Freetown in present-day Sierra Leone. This installation was inspired by those stories and the brewing conflict for authority over Colored bodies globally.
In repurposing these land movers as musing of a coming cerebral mutiny, I am interested in the conversation sparked within the laborers who participate. It is important to understand how your labor in key to this displacement. Seemingly necessary for survival, the blue-collar colored feels the conflict no matter how deeply layered. He or she, in exchange for paper dreams, is part of an equation of disenfranchisement. Though the necessity feels unavoidable, there are lessons that can adjust this equation.
Construction vehicles are a symbol of upheaval. In marginalized communities these large movers of land and debris are often a precursor to gentrification. Residents are conflicted. Intuitively they understand that those vehicles represent something new and the building of an alternative future. They also understand that that future is not meant to include them.
Transcript of speech by Frederick Douglass
I congratulate you, upon what may be called the greatest event of our nation’s history, if not the greatest event of the century. In the eye of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, there is not now, and there has not been, since the 1 st day of January, a single slave lawfully deprived of Liberty in any of the States now recognized as in Rebellion against the National Government. In all these States Slavery is now in law, as in fact, a system of lawless violence, against which the slave may lawfully defend . . . .
In the midst of the most sought-after blocks in Manhattan stands the Fulton Houses and the Chelsea-Elliot housing projects. They exist in contrast to the gangs of wealth who barely notice or acknowledge their presence. As a stark example of gentrification, I felt that this setting would be a suitable inaugural location for this series of work.