From Absence to Presence, Commemorating Contributions of Enslaved Peoples

Completion: 2020

LocationLocation: St. Mary’s College of Maryland, St. Mary’s City, MD

Description: In From Absence to Presence, the tectonic form of a slave quarter materializes from the ground up evoking how this history was uncovered from archaeological research – making the invisible visible. The surfaces are gradated in a pattern of staggered and alternating Ipe wood clapboard and mirror polished stainless steel, recalling the staggered pattern of erasure poetry. In our design, rows of text on mirrored surfaces are “redacted” by clapboards to dramatically reveal an emergent narrative. Activist Angela Davis described the sacredness of slave quarters in the lives of enslaved peoples as “the only space where they could truly experience themselves as human beings.” As artists, we envision the private space of the slave quarters as a symbol of resilience, determination, and persistence.

As a powerful sculptural object in the context of an open field, the slave quarter form reflects its surroundings and invite visitors to engage with it as introspective focal points, creating moments of pause and reflection for visitors that walk from the parking lot to the sports complex and back. Imbued with the resonance of the past, the field, once slave planation field and now a campus sports field, becomes part of the overall expression the Commemoration through the reflective nature of the artwork.

The Commemoration juxtaposes the current site of sports field with its slave past, holding them in dramatic tension. This connects our lives with the lives of slaves and causing us to pause and reflect on how we as Americans are connected to this history. When viewers engage the work, they see themselves, the activity surrounding a sports event reflected, interlaced with poetic text, coalescing into a visually resonant sculptural experience.

At night, the words of poetry become dramatically illuminated, projecting the text upon the ground forming a starburst pattern recalling how the North Star played a key role in helping slaves as a beacon to true north and freedom. In this manner, the illuminated sculptural quarter appears as a beacon that becomes an eternal vigil to the memory and resilience of the enslaved people who once lived, loved, worked, and resisted on the grounds of St. Mary’s College.

Design Optimization/Management: METALAB

Poet: Quenton Baker