“Think about it in terms of memory. Like this particular room has so long a memory that everything that’s ever happened here is happening right now. Everything. All at once. Baby Showers. Wakes. Last Sunday’s card game – everything.”
- Ninth, Mirrors in Every Corner
“The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.”
-Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (as quoted in Orientalism by Edward Said)
In December of 2008, Chinaka Hodge asked me to create a series of portraits that raised questions on race and identity for her play, Mirrors in Every Corner. The play (directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and with Daveed Diggs, Margo Hall, Dwight Huntsmen and Traci Tolmaire) follows the story of a Black family in West Oakland from 1988 until 2008 after the mother gives birth to a white daughter. The play explores the ways that social structures of race, class, gender and history form, unify and disrupt all families, particularly in the context of changing cities.
Working with Intersection for the Arts in the Mission District of San Francisco, we developed the idea of a collaborative project that would connect the issues facing Black residents of West Oakland with those faced by Latinos in the Mission District of San Francisco through a large scale family portrait of one family from the Mission. We also planned a series of free workshops to create portraits that would broaden the idea of what family looks like. In addition, the installation/set includes elements from the play that speak to the varied ways that race is enforced and defined in the U.S. today – often in stagnant and/or violent ways. The wooden panels picture images of both neighborhoods and their shifts in demographics from the 1980’s to the present.
In the fall of 2009 I connected with Mercy Jimenez and her family through Poder – an organization working for environmental and economic rights in the Mission. Mercy is one of the group’s longest active members, born and raised in the Mission District and the daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants active in Latino rights causes. Working closely with the Jimenez family over the following six months, we created a piece that tells the history of the Mission over the past 20 years through the story and perspective of their family – including family photos, historical photos from El Tecolote photo archive, text from interviews with the family, poetry and neighborhood photos.
Many thanks to the Jimenez family – Mercy, Israel, Gabe, Miguel, Pablo, Yesenia and Carlos for their connection, collaboration and wisdom. Many thanks as well to incredible play collaborators, workshop participants, friends, Intersection staff and all those many others who made this project possible.
This project was made possible through the Cultural Equity Grants program at the San Francisco Arts Commission and the generous help of individual donors.