In your essay, you wrote about indelible images from the past that are also traumatizing. For your lecture, how did you choose the images you’ll be showing and talking about?
I had agreed to do the essay and lecture over two years ago. The past two years were a long time for me. One of the things that the COVID pandemic gave me was clarity about what I can tolerate and what I can’t. I found myself having to write about images I didn’t want to look at.
I had a phenomenal conversation with 15 MFA students about this. I had volunteered to teach one of the installments of a required class called Critical Practice. My section was on public art. The students are in my class because they want to deal publicly with issues around colonialism, or misogyny or racism or anti-LGBTQ violence. For their final assignment, they had to pick a site in New Haven, Connecticut, and create a proposal for a public art piece on that site. We were reading a lot about New Haven history. The Amistad trial happened here, and lots of different types of trauma to Indigenous people and various people of color. We were having a discussion about how you make work as an artist about these issues and not keep re-inscribing the trauma. I told them that I have to make this presentation, and said: I don't know what I can do with these images now. Maybe I'll just do a slideshow where you can't see the images. They all went crazy for that idea and said: Oh my God, you have to do that.
I made the PowerPoint where parts of the images are blocked out, but you still can recognize the images. You don't have to see the whole image, your memory fills in the rest because we are so familiar with these terrible pictures. So it addresses how common the vocabulary of those traumatizing images has become.