arming by clara
arming by clara, 2017. Corrugated zinc, each 33" x 141.5". Commissionedby the Art Gallery of York University. Installation view from Migrating the Marginscurated by Emelie Chhangur + Philip Monk. Photo: Jennifer Rose Sciarrino. Images Courtesy ofAGYU.
arming by clara is a 12-foot self-portrait, armed and armoured monument commemorating the life of Clara Ford and the lives of Black bodies, whose survival is often read as threatening or encoded in a grammar of militancy. arming by clara is inspired by the story of Clara Ford, a Black, Toronto-born person accused in 1895 of murdering a wealthy white man who assaulted her. Known for wearing men’s clothing and carrying a loaded revolver, Clara appeared in court in a Victorian dress, ultimately leading to her acquittal as the jury imagined no woman, much less a Black one, could perform a crime as lethal as murder. Clara went on to join Sam T. Jacks Creoles, the first all-Black woman burlesque company in the United States. I am very interested in the links between her survival and my own haunting. Much of what haunts me is a response to the judicial system, incarceration, slavery, colonialism and the ways we experience and resist these violences in our daily lives and through intimate relationships. What haunts me is a fear of lost freedom.
This is a monument to Black bodies, negated, some thrice or four times, which carry with them the subconscious awareness that stepping outside the threshold of “home” and maintaining and/or protecting freedom means arming oneself psychically, emotionally, physically, spiritually. It means we have to learn from what haunts us.
Like the narratives embedded in the coloured figures, the things we hold onto that enable this survival are not accessible to everyone, nor are they commodifiable or even material; they are intimate moments: teachings from a parent, blood memory and the encoded lessons in cyphers, movements, gestures and rhythms. The head of the V, where viewers are invited to stand to complete the formation, is a site of negotiation, of sovereign power and of witnessing, or releasing an armour, which is often and necessarily invisible.
arming by clara is part of the Kingsbrea Sculpture Garden collection