JCSM called nine members of the university community to respond objectively and subjectively to art from JCSM’s growing collection of natural history prints. The resulting exhibition is an orchestrated chorus of diverse voices responding to the art, science, and wonder of representing the natural world.
To expand the conversation, Ralph Brown Draughon Library’s Special Collections Department loaned materials from their collections; JCSM appreciates their kind collaboration. We also thank the Auburn University Museum of Natural History in the College of Science and Mathematics for loaning materials from their ornithology collection.
The above video player provides audiences with a reading of the poem by the author. This recording is also available to hear in the gallery.
A sculptural poem, Hollow Haunts explores questions of historicity: What is the work of time, and how are we at its mercy when
we attempt to negotiate our collective histories? Is historical authenticity at odds with the evolution of our collective humanity?
In responding to Walton Ford’s Scipio and the Bear, I turned to the text that inspired the painting, a section from Audubon, the Naturalist of the New World that first appeared in Audubon’s 1832 Ornithological Biography. Volume 1. The ornithologist recounts participating in a plantation bear hunt during which a slave, riding horseback, kills the largest of the bears by landing an axe in its skull. The man’s name is Scipio, a popular moniker for slaves displaying bravery, a reference to Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal. Though Audubon admires Scipio for his horsemanship and saddle-making skills, he remains an animal in Audubon’s eyes, a centaur at best, half- man and half-beast.
Rather than turning away from this difficult material, I wished to excavate the text. Making use of only the first two pages of the passage, the red line of correction cross-stitched on Hollow Haunts functions not as an erasure—though it takes the form of an erasure poem—but as a kind of bleeding through. The Scipio I see here was brave for insisting on his humanity, for declaring himself in a time when selfhood did not exist for black people in America. Hollow Haunts pits the slow march of time’s progress against the rightfully impatient hunger for personhood, recognition, and respect—the refusal to be captive to time’s constraints in the making of a self.
With thanks to Erin Curry and the Jentel Artist Residency Program.