• The East Texas Oilfield as an Architecture of Memento Mori
    Amanda Russhell Wallace

Amanda Russhell Wallace, “Untitled (photograph in family cemetery in Tatum, Texas),” 2019. Courtesy the author

The Great Migration narrative is commonly characterized by Black Americans fleeing the South, beginning in the early twentieth century, for better lives. Some who remained participated in the East Texas oilfield boom during this same time. Names on many headstones encountered at a family cemetery in Tatum, a rural east Texas town, correspond to names found in land and property records. Several families sold or leased their rights to oil and gas companies. However, the status of generational wealth and information found in marriage, birth, and death records suggest a different mythology. This project proposes an alternative to the Great Migration narrative by conflating the open and expansive architectural structures of the oil field and the often secluded, rural cemeteries as a point of departure for this alternative. Ultimately, the project proposes that the oilfield topography lined with oil well derricks serves as an indexical symbology for headstone landmarks.

Amanda Russhell Wallace’s work as a lens-based multimedia artist, family documentarian, and educator presents and interrogates various loci of dissociation and dis-remembering within identity formation and performance. She received her master’s in photography, video, and related media from the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally in a variety of venues—galleries, conferences, and symposia—including the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, El Museu Valencià de la Il·lustració i la Modernitat (MuVIM), Newark Museum, Flux Factory and MASS MoCA. Wallace’s project, Mourning Breaks, was recently granted the Documentary Essay Prize from the Center of Documentary Studies at Duke University. Currently, she is an assistant professor of lens-based media at Connecticut College.