The Kintsugi Altarpiece is a mixed media work from my “Once Removed” series, layering my original photography with found photos, maps, and book pages torn and collaged onto birch panel, finished with cold wax medium and mended with gold leaf, to honor ancestral lives shattered by slavery and painstakingly rebuilt during The Great Migration when millions of former slaves fled the American South. Since unearthing in 2020 my ancestors’ unholy legacy of owning other human beings, I have created multiple series about women in this era, but this most recent series takes a more transcendent approach by focusing on the freedoms women found post-emancipation to grow their family trees in more fertile soil. The Kintsugi Altarpiece brings together many overlapping cultural practices that strive for ancestral healing and affirm that the old destructive patterns of thought and deed end with me and will never be passed on to my descendants.
Glimpsed through the layers of the piece are pages from a 105 year old book, “The Trees of Pennsylvania” that represent my northern roots, along with vintage maps of cities like Baltimore near where I currently live. I layered golden joss paper, commonly used as burnt offerings in Chinese ancestral worship, to ensure that the spirits of the dead have sufficient means in the afterlife. Though torn and imperfectly-mended with gold leaf in the method of Japanese Kintsugi, the elements surrounding and bleeding through the central figure evoke the iconography of an ancient Byzantine altarpiece. These icons gave visual form to complex theological concepts such as the sacrifice of the Saint, here embodied as an African American Woman, and how she suffered and continues to be sacrificed for our sins. These icons historically served an important teaching function in an illiterate society; lessons sorely needed now when the truth of racial injustice is still being erased from history and the stories of who we were and who we have become remain untold. In this moment, I choose to lift every voice and sing.