Identity Politics of Mobility: Kara Walker and Berni Searle

Petra Kuppers


i am accused of tending the past / as if i made it, / as if I sculpted it / with my own hands. i did not. / this past was waiting for me / when i came, / a monstrous unnamed baby, / and i with my mother’s itch / took it to breast / and named it / History.
(Clifton, 1991: 7)

How do we tend the violent past, the past of slavery, of apartheid? How do we remember what we did not experience, but without being victimised by those memories and their contemporary echoes? [1] In US Black Aesthetic poet Lucille Clifton’s poem, women’s bodies become the sites of creating not History herself, but the path on which History might walk into a future. In this essay, I am tracing how two contemporary artists of colour use echoes of embodiment in order to bring into presence historical events too easily forgotten in the archives of statistics, case numbers, generalisations. I argue that this embodied address becomes a method of pointing to the tending of History, to the act of involvement, engagement, and responsibility that binds all who witness the work.


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