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jajf 2019 project

Fifteen Dollars (2019) & Camera Is In My Hands Now (2019)



The following is an excerpt from 2019 Fellow Grace Bryan's reflection on her Fellowship project:

“In my experience as a Fellow, I have been able to travel to better understand my family’s and my personal connection to my racial history. The first work I created was Fifteen Dollars, a video work depicting my perception of absence where presence is expected. In schlepping to the farm of my distant ancestor, Abraham Bryan, I felt pressured to connect to and reclaim the site of my ancestor’s success and tragedy. Yet, as I stood on the fabled land, beads of sweat dripping from my face, touching the scorching historical plaque, I was a tourist. I pondered how to feel connected to a history so far removed. In the late 1990’s, a black woman named Norman Satchell wrote the park authorities about a rumor she’d heard that a black man had owned the abandoned farm, leading to its designation as a historical site. I felt more like an investigator than a genealogist or artist, knocking on locals' doors and shuffling the stack of ancient archives at the park library. In his files there, I didn’t find the succinct story I sought, but a fragmented mess of logistical documents, maps, records, letters, and blueprints. A park ranger modestly pointed out that Maryland, a former slave state, was within sight of Bryan’s front porch. I was told by the park service that he was buried in a small, black cemetery near downtown. I found the cemetery locked with the nearby address of the keeper, who turned out to be a lifelong black resident of Gettysburg. She explained her ongoing battle with the park service, who have historically refused to upkeep the cemetery, and that Abraham Bryan was most likely buried elsewhere... The ambiguity of the available evidence pushed me in the direction of feelings rather than facts. I wanted to make a video about the feeling of being there in the peak of summer. The heat beaming off the grass, the gentle breeze, the light dancing through the tree branches, and the overwhelming space taken up by the absence of my connection.

“My second piece was Camera Is In My Hands Now, which was filmed in the British Museum in London, England. The British Museum has been the subject of scrutiny for holding onto artifacts taken during the African diaspora, with the Nigerian bronze shields among the best-known of all such cases. I sought to understand the connection of my identity to the stolen works. My racial identity… is not common or well understood; I am “white passing,” but claim both black and white identities. My meeting this summer with social psychologist, Dr. Sarah Gaither, helped clarify why my racial identity can be complicated for others. People use categories to interpret the world, including race. Accordingly, she explained, a racially ambiguous appearance elicits feelings of mistrust and confusion among monoracial group members, including black or white. What does it mean for a mixed race family to be in this space?... My piece is a portrait of my family, an attempt to capture our genuine selves despite whatever expectations may be imposed on us. I chose a style reminiscent of, and including, my father’s home videos to emphasize how time has passed and our relationship has evolved. I sought to capture my father’s alternately professorial and silly attitude in the museum. Our reclamation of the space is, simply put, our being here…"

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