• Black Elegies
    Kimberly Juanita Brown

Toby Sisson, “Black Tears” (detail), 2015. Ink and beeswax on paper. 7 x 5 1/2 each, approx. 6 1/2 x 16 ft. overall. Courtesy the artist

Recalling the poignant investigation into “the national emergency of Black grief” initiated by curator Okqui Enwezor (1963–2019) through his exhibition Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America—presented in 2021 at the New Museum, New York—this project investigates the absented presence of Black mourning practices, particularly in spaces where the architecture obscures the violence of slavery. Specifically, the work endeavors to examine the place of mourning that renovated plantations refuse. When these sites are presented as venues for events (such as weddings), offering the perception of grandeur of a southern American past, the plantation site reproduces the trauma of enslavement even if it is currently devoid of enslaved subjects. Black Elegies is the answer to the question, “where does the grief go?” Exploring plantations such as Monticello in Virginia, Nottoway and Oak Alley in Louisiana, and Magnolia and Boone Hall in South Carolina, as sites of Black mourning, this research allows for a fuller, more robust understanding of racial trauma.

Kimberly Juanita Brown is an associate professor in the department of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. Her research and writing gather at the intersection of literature and visual culture. She is the author of The Repeating Body: Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary (Duke University Press, 2015), which examines the gendered construction of memory in representations of slavery. Brown’s book projects include: Mortevivum: Photography and the Politics of the Visual concerns images of the dead in The New York Times in 1994 from four geographies: South Africa, Rwanda, Sudan and Haiti. Black Elegies explores the gravity of black mourning practices that exist outside the genre of poetry.