The Republic, c.2016-17
Dismayed by the unsettling dialogue engulfing the American presidential election of 2016, I set out to investigate a country built in the most beautiful language and lofty visions. My interest was to explore the ideals, architecture, expression and idolatry of significant figures in our history - the ambitious goals of our founders versus the harsh contradictions of slavery, slaughter of indigenous people and profiteering land grabs. I thought a lot about the elegance of thought and speech and debate, which furthered the country’s laws and protections for lands and citizenry. I thought a lot about the caustic knee-jerk, childish rhetoric and gang-bang mentality sweeping through conservative America. I didn’t expect by year’s end to be dealing with fascism and a thuggish plutocracy, aided and abetted by foreign intervention.
While seeking to understand the United States, I also needed to understand the role of my own family. Until a few years ago, I was aware only of the agrarian roots of much of my ancestors and late 19th century arrivals from Europe. In exploring the full direct lineage, the trail has led to the earliest colonists; officers in the Revolutionary War; to soldiers in both the Union Army and the Confederacy; to the struggling and the well-heeled; farmers and women who died of influenza and in child birth. When the research led to several of my ancestors who owned slaves, and some who were directly connected to the roots of plantation culture, I felt a shudder of responsibility I hoped to never feel. A lifetime of liberal politics and egalitarian beliefs did not prepare me to hit that wall.
How does one reconcile a heritage built both by the enslaved and the colonists? Patriotism is complex. My country straddles a morality stuck between a progressive future and an extremist past which has catapulted into the present. In creating works for The Republic I wrestle with all of it – a baptism by fire. We can’t get over it. We must go through it.