From the artist’s project statement: “In the 1930s, migrant laborers came from all over the region to work on the construction of a 3-mile tunnel to divert the New River near Fayetteville, WV. During the process, workers were exposed to pure silica dust due to improper drilling techniques. Many developed a lung disease known as silicosis, which is estimated to have caused the death of nearly 800 workers. Up to two-thirds of those workers were African American. Besides a small plaque at the Hawks Nest State Park, which lists a significantly lower number than the actual number killed, there is very little to mark the site. There is also sparse visual documentation available about the event. There has been an effort to erase this tragic moment in history from the memory of West Virginia.
In Appalachian Ghosts, I explore visual possibilities of what that time and place looked like, using primary-source materials to recreate the workers’ experiences in photographs. I have also recontextualized and re-presented archive photographs, originally made to document the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel dam and powerhouse. The few people caught in the photographic archive were often nameless and voiceless workers. Specifically, I’m looking at what has been left out of African-American visual history, which to date has mainly been documented with a colonial gaze. From this standpoint, I have sought to re/create work that has been informed by and made from historical documents and photographs.
My research also focused on working with non-visual resources that inspired the creation of new works. I researched news clips, letters, poetry and other cultural resources looking for information that described the experience of working in the tunnel. I was particularly struck by a poem from Muriel Rukeyser’s book The Book of the Dead called “George Robinson: Blues:”
As dark as I am. when I came out at morning after the tunnel at night with a white man, nobody could have told which man was white. The dust had covered us both, and the dust was white. -Muriel Rukeyser “The Book of the Dead”
Rukeyser’s book, along with other primary-source documents, inspired a series of images that focuses on the silica dust that covered everything at the work site.”
For the January Thomas Art Walk we will add work from Emily Prentice and Gina Mamone to the ongoing exhibition by Kimberly Joy Trathen.
Gina Mamone is an audio engineer & maker living in the coalfields of West Virginia. Mamone engineered and produced some of the first Riot Grrrl albums to come out of the PNW. Up until 2014 Mamone was President of Riot Grrrl Ink. the largest queer record label in the world, with an artist roster of over 200 that ranged from the Gay Ole Opry to Andrea Gibson. In 2014, in an act of solidarity with the emerging #BLM movement and in an intentional act of reparations & redistribution of wealth, Mamone gave RGI to Awqward, the first queer POC/indigenous talent agency. As the Creative Director of the Queer Appalachia Project, they communicate with over a quarter of a million queers & allies daily who call home below the Mason-Dixon through the project. Mamone is also an Editor at the looking at Appalachia Project & is currently collaborating with Nan Goldin’s PAIN project.
Emily Prentice is a forever novice, a devotee to beginnings, and the Zine Queen of Randolph County. Her work focuses on the meeting place of the natural and the supernatural (the ways in which we’re of this world and beyond it), and it exists in the form of quilts, zines, drawings, and teaching. Find Emily’s creative practice online at www.emilyprentice.com.
Solo Exhibition of reclaimed leather quilts by Kimberly Joy Trathen
Opening November 10, 2018 – 6-9pm
The textiles and garments that surround us silently accompany us through the unfolding experiences of our lives. New stories are gathered. New histories are created. The materials become charged with a spirit that is not reproducible – a kind of social life or aura created by its own unique history.
I create new work from old things: new bags from discarded leather coats, wallets from unwanted jackets, quilts from textile and leather remnants. For this body of work, I have woven scraps from previous projects into new works. The result is a charged piece of art, activated not only by my own hands, but from the material’s previous lives. Another layer is added to its history.
The humble roots of this practice – mostly utilitarian work-clothes quilts – fascinate me. They have helped inspire and guide my work in its present direction. The current exhibition explores variations on the traditional quilt pattern, Dutchman’s Puzzle.