Our Blood Is In These Stones…

An Elegant Utility
Press & Reviews

Before ‘An Elegant Utility’ opened I was unsure about how the show would be received. This show is unlike any single body of work I have ever created and presented. It is an amalgam of every discipline I have worked in during my professional life and my life as an artist. Although the project began as a photographic meditation on the objects at the center of the show. None of those photos are in the final exhibit. So the irony of this show is that I have spent most of my career working in one form of photography or another and there are none of my original photographic images in the show. This show has more writing than I have ever formally presented, in any form. I also employ graphic design, illustration,  filmmaking and my background as a journalist and researcher. The final format for me is an exploration of the boundaries of how I work.

Reflecting on all of this, I am both relieved and pleased by the overwhelmingly positive response to the work. Both the community and members of the Seattle art establishment have expressed how strongly the work resonates. I am encouraged to continue to exploring the boundaries of how I tell stories and grapple with ideas.

Here are some articles and reviews published about this show.

The Seattle Times:  The Ways Love Shows Up in the World

The Seattle Weekly: An Elegant Utility’s Radical Interdependency

Real Change: Family Ties: Artist Inye Wokoma Follows His Family’s History Through the Central District at NAAM

The Stranger: Inye Wokoma: An Elegant Utility

Screenshots of the articles:

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An Elegant Utility
Constructing Silence

ConstructingSilence a video installation at BOOM: Changing Seattle Exhibit. http://cfadseattle.org/general/boom-changing-seattle/

I created this video as a small wall installation in the BOOM: Changing Seattle Exhibit at the Center for Architectural Design. Although I didn’t create this piece for ‘An Elegant Utility’, it fits squarely inside the philosophical body of thought driving that work.

This is a short meditation on the personal consequences of the systematically dismantling communities to make for “economic growth”. Without an ethical or visionary core that is rooted in humanity, capitalism only values the ecosystems in accordance to their ability to create profit. Communities are human social ecosystems that have inherent value that cannot the measured within capitalism’s narrow ideological framework. This piece subtly posits that this should be a central ethical tenet of our society.

Over the years I struggled with how I could best support Vern. Based on our familial connections I knew that he had relatives that were in charge of caring for his home. I never had the closest relationship with him. Some of my older cousins had the first hand knowledge and relationships with his direct relatives. As they grew older and moved out of the Central District those connections frayed. Obviously they stopped seeing Vern and may have lost contact with his direct relatives. When Vern lost his home, nobody knew how to contact is closest family, most of whom live in another state. I think the one or two relative who lived in Seattle either grew to old to manage his affairs or possibly died. All of these things together led to the progressive deterioration of Vern’s living conditions. In my own daily efforts to manage our own extensive family affairs in a changing neighborhood, it became harder for me to keep regualar track of Vern and give my cousins accurate updates on what was going on. This was always a difficult thing for me.

UPDATE 1 – January, 2017: Vern (Vernon Gray) was a regular feature in the Central District and Capital Hill. As our family and members of the black community moved out of the neighborhood the new residents would come to know him as well. Though there was no familial connection that gave him the kind of emotional, mental and social support that our family offered, the new Central District residents did what they could to see that he was cared for. The following is a gallery of screen captures from a Nextdoor – Garfield North conversation thread. It illustrates my point that the social ecology that forms the basis of community is central to our collective well-being. What this also illustrates is that in where one communal network offer a kind of all encompassing support of all Vern’s needs, a fractured, virtual or newly evolving communal network can only provide periodic material support.


UPDATE 2 – April 2017:  In a recent conversation with my cousin Mary I learned that Vern is currently being cared for at Harborview’s mental health ward. They are working on finding him permanent housing. A few of my cousins visit him regularly and take him to Sunday service at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Members of the church have also stepped up to make sure Vern has a sense of community and continuity in his life. Despite the larger changes that led to Vern being increasingly isolated and eventually losing his home, I am very happy to know that he has landed in a place where there are people who are able and willing to stay connected and care for him.

 

UPDATE 3 – June 2017: I had been watching the conversation thread about Vernon on the Nextdoor – Garfield North conversation thread. I recently made a post to update the neighbors who showed concern for Vernon. Here screen capture of my post:

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An Elegant Utility
A Tale of Two Ledgers

Tale of Two Ledgers-narration from Inye Wokoma-Ijo Arts Media Group on Vimeo.

In 1947 my grandparents purchased 913 24th Ave, the first of four homes my grandparents would own in Seattle’s Central District. Over the course of 49 year they would give this home away. In 2005 I became the owner of this home. The story of ownership between two family members could not be more different. From restrictive housing covenants and redlining to predatory lending and sub-prime loans this story, ‘A Tale of Two Ledgers’, is a very personal story in which is reflected the larger forces that shaped black home ownership of the past 75 years.

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An Elegant Utility:
Esotericism
Silent Metaphors
Ritual Practice

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This is an image of my show ‘An Elegant Utility’ at The Northwest African American Museum. Here are some thoughts about this image and why I it appeals to me.

I took this image to document the installation. Mainly because a literary journal is publishing some text excerpts from the show and wanted a photo as accompaniment. I was moving through the gallery taking photos and literally stumbled upon this composition. I took a few frames and my instincts as a photographer kicked in. Patience. I stayed in this spot feeling that at some point the perfect combination of elements would emerge. When all of the elements seen in this photo fell into place I knew this was the image I wanted. Here is how I interpret this image.

This is an exhibit of oral history narratives triggered by and paired with physical objects. Central in this image is a plumber’s vise, a tool saved from my grandfather’s workshop. Although I ascribed no narrative to this object it is the metaphorical heart of the show. In using family narratives to explore what it meant to build Seattle’s black community in the 20th century, I meditated continually on the cultural values around family and community cohesion, borne of our West African origins, surviving slavery and amplified by intense American white supremacy and institutional racism post emancipation, as i experienced them personally. Specifically I was interested in how our evolution as a people relied on our ability to maintain a sense of collective identity despite radically divergent social, political, cultural and political points of view and the attendant conflicts that emerge within our families and communities. In my family I experienced this first hand as intense conflicts formed around these very fault lines. Some of them led to very real and volatile fallouts that lasted for years. Eventually, even as the sources of some of the conflicts were never resolved, the alliance of blood held us together.

The vise is positioned in the very center of the gallery space, which as I stated previously, reflects its role as the thematic core of the show. I have ideas in my project notebook about text that may accompany this object in future iterations of the show. Here however I let it stand without overt commentary. I thought a lot about this treatment and decided that, with all of the presentation options in this space, offering it as a ‘silent metaphor’ was the strongest choice. In fact all of the objects in the vitrines function in this way. They are metaphors for all the things that typify how philosophical, social and cultural diversity in our communities lead to conflicts and divergent ways of being; all aspects of our existence that are held together, improbably, by a central notion and experience of ‘blackness’. In this show political nature of blackness is translated through the lens of our sense of family identity. Most people visiting the show won’t tap into this. In fact I am certain nobody would without my statement of intent. For me, this positioning represents on opportunity for the show to have a kind of esoteric quality that I endeavor to bring to all of my work. It is a personal point of meditation for me every time I enter the gallery. As such I have afforded myself a kind of ongoing ritual experience with this show.

In the background the show’s video projection cycles through two distinct presentations. One is an oral history segment that, in broad strokes, charts the chronological evolution of our family in Seattle’s Central District. The other is an evolution of one of the video projections that I originally created for my show ‘This is Who We Are’ at the Frye Art Museum. This second video is a libation/invocation to and of family ancestors. It is purely meditative. In this frame the video bears the image of our familial ancestors in two family portraits taken in rural Arkansas sometime in the 1920s. The video image is simultaneously seen in the background through the vitrine holding the plumber’s vise, and becomes a part of the case itself as its light reflects off of the transparent panels. Thus the plumber’s vise, as a silent metaphor for communal cohesion, merges with the video image that embodies our familial origin story. The esoteric qualities of two of the shows elements around communal identity and cohesion come together as one artifact in this image.

Finally the word Yoruba word ‘Ase’, meaning ‘so be it/may it be so’ is featured dead center. ‘Ase’ as a term of declaration and/or punctuation at the end of prayers, evokes the power to make things happen or to create change. In libation it is a part of the invocation of ancestors, calling them into our ceremonial/ritual space as active participants in our Earthly endeavors. In the video the word ‘Ase’ follows a series of names of family ancestors and so functions in the media the same as the libations we perform when we gather in community.

And so with all of these things coming together in one serendipitously captured image, I am honored to have and share this photo.

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An Elegant Utility:
Exhibit Photos

Just to be sharing. In a sharing mood.

A special thanks to Rezina Habtemariam, curator and collaborator for this exhibition.

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-inye.

 

 

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An Elegant Utility:
Origin Stories

 

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The Green Family Constellation, as installed in the exhibit ‘An Elegant Utility’ at the Northwest African American Museum.

 

Origin Stories & The Green Galaxy

This graphic started with a request from Serenity Wise-Thurman for a family tree as a part of my show ‘An Elegant Utility’, on display at the Northwest African American Museum from January 28 – May 28, 2017. Somewhere in the process of putting the show together the vision of circles came to me as essential to the form. So instead of creating a ‘tree’, or some other linear branching form, this image emerged.

For me looking at the completed graphic is a kind of revelation. Seeing my maternal great grandparents, Samuel and Mariah Green, in the center of this constellation clarified something that I had simply taken for granted for most of my life; that their lives represent a kind of genesis story, a cosmic point of origin for how I understand and experience my family. From my arm down in the lower quadrant I can locate relatives on another family arm in an opposing quadrant and testify to relationships that are just as powerful and essential as those I have with my immediate brothers and sisters. As such this graphic is a cipher, essential to accessing a deeper understanding of who I am in this world.

As powerful as this graphic is, it is incomplete. It shows my family in terms of my blood relations. However, there is a deeper reality that is too complex for this two dimensional rendition. There are those in our family who are not blood descendants of Samuel and Mariah but are no less family than those represented in this graphic. What binds us together is love, consent, commitment, responsibility to one another, and shared lives. These bonds are unbreakable and in some ways represent an evolution of the bonds of blood. These bonds of consent, entered into voluntarily and shared collectively, are regarded as lifelong commitments. They are a higher expression of our humanity.

This is where I reference my Wokoma family history across the ocean in Nigeria. In it every story of family lineage is laced with narratives of people who were adopted, married, purchased (yes, purchased) or in other ways migrated into the family and so there remained, permanent and irremovable by any force such as divorce, deceit or conflict. In any re-telling of family history these people are indistinguishable from blood relatives. There is synergy between the ways the Green and Wokoma families evolved, continents apart. It is rooted in a very ‘African’ way of being. What is taken for granted as a natural way of being in family in Kalabari land in Southern Nigeria, stands out in 20th Century America. And so I cannot help but meditate on the things centuries of enslavement, complete cultural dislocation and unrelenting political and bodily oppression failed to strip us of; this way of creating family as the most essential social institution. It has been and continues to be the key to our survival and the source of our genius. From where I stand Birdie, Neader, Frank, Betty, James, Detroia, Stella and Zrelda, the eight children of Samuel and Mariah, embodied this perfectly and effortlessly.

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The Galactic Core: Samuel and Mariah Green and their eight children.

 

So coming back to the idea of circles and origin stories, I have chosen to refer to this graphic as the ‘Green Galaxy’. Something about the idea of a living, breathing, growing cosmic entity, made up of interdependent bodies moving together, revolving around a central core, creating new bodies in orbit around themselves, extending the range of diversity and possibility, this appeals to me. We are in orbit together, revolving around a central core and my sense of place and possibility in the world is affirmed. There is an inherent sense of continuity in this.

If I can share one essential perspective around which my children can build their identities over the course of their lives, it would be this.

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-Inye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Blood
Is In These Stones:
Journal:Process

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The stones hold our oldest memories. The water tells our tales. The trees speak to us. The wind carries our prayers. We are all so far from our land. The land irrigated by our Ancestors’ bodies and blood.

We are human still.

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Our blood still speaks the language of water. Here, introduce yourself into these stones, to this water, to these trees to this wind. Introduce yourself to the people of this land and their ancestors. The land will speak to you. The people will speak to you in their own time, in their own way.

Now is the time for new ritual, new ceremony. The land will guide you. Your Ancestors will find you and join you. The Ancestor in this land will find you and join you. Speak to them.

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Our Blood
Is In These Stones:
Migration:Field Notes

Green-PerryAK-Portrait 
“Why did you come to this land?”  This is a question I never asked my grandfathers and grandmothers. I wish I had. Though I can never be sure of what they would have said, the answers to this question, I believe, I already know. They are woven into my story. They are woven into our family’s collective story.     2016-03-15-Migration Journal-01-02 

We built our homes hoping and working for a better future for ourselves.

We were not invited.

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We built our homes on someone else’s bones.

We were not invited.

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 To whom do I appeal for permission to stay on the land onto which I was born?

To whom do I appeal for permission to be buried in the land on which I was born?

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We must honor and entreat and bring restitution to the living progeny of this land for the right to be here in peace, for the right to be here as fully human beings.

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I am restless on this land. The land on which I was born

   

When I seek justice for myself I must seek justice for the Ancestors and their living progeny of this land

   

As visitors, late arrivers on this land, our stories here can only be told inside of Salish Stories

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doo-AHBSH…People of the Inside.

hah-choo-AHBSH….People of the Large Lake.

   

We Are On Indigenous Land.

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