STAMPS PAID / FIRST IN FLIGHT
In the strictest sense, flight is about breaking the bonds of gravity in order to claim a semblance of freedom. This came to mind when planning pieces to best inhabit an airport. Flight and freedom, in a contemporary sense, are class-based activities. These threads are also woven into the narrative of the African Diaspora. Via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a folktale with origins in the Igbo people speaks of the people who could fly. It’s a throughline in several feature films dealing with the effects of African slavery. As told in Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales,
“They say the people could fly. Say that long ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbin’ up on a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields. Black, shiny wings flappin’ against the blue up there.”
This version is reiterated in Haile Gerima’s Sankofa. In Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, the alternate telling centers on enslaved Africans claiming their liberty and walking across the water back to Africa. In both instances, it is the power of faith and self-actualization that allows one to “fly free”. This literal, and figurative flight is represented by the recurring birds in the works The King - Fego (Fly Upwards), The Queen - Fego (Fly Upwards), The Group - Ijeoma (Farewell), and The Flock - Fenaba (Fly Home). Seven birds, and seven steps to heaven.
The companion pieces created for this show (Stamps Paid) are based, in part, on a character from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The character Stamp Paid resonates with me for two reasons. 1) He chose his name, as act of self determination and freedom, and 2) his purpose was to act as a ‘liberation agent’; he ferried souls along the Underground Railroad into a new existence. Whenever I receive a piece of metered postage, I always think of that character and how the stamps on packages are also manifestations of a type of boundless freedom. In particular, the stamps used in these works feature images of people of African and Indigenous descent that were pioneering liberation agents in their own right. Their personage is the foundation for the elevation of many.
Lastly, while all of the works are influenced by music, the title of the exhibition is a contraction of two specific songs; one by James Brown and the other by Jazz musician Donald Byrd. Both recordings are staples in Hip Hop culture, itself a type of liberation agent, and both deal with self-actualization and migration as a means of catalyzing change and claiming power. It is those notions I hope to convey in these works. Looking onward, and upward, and finding oneself elevated.
Down here on the ground, Watching sparrows fly...
“Down Here on the Ground” (Lyrics by Lou Rawls)