The work is originally inspired by my accidental encounter with the children’s book “Henry’s Freedom Box” (by E. Levine, illustrated by K. Nelson) at a children’s book reading at a public Library in Louisiana, USA. The children’s story is about the figure of Henry Box Brown – an escaped slave and a figure in American history who shipped himself to freedom in a box from Virginia to Philadelphia in 1849. The box story corresponds to a headline in the newspaper from a few years back- of a young black man Charles McKinley who shipped himself home in a cargo jet in a crate.
OUT NOW | Issue 6 | May 08
Lala Rascic | Untitled. Travel in a Box
Timothy E. Weeks | Playing With Parallels. A Smashup Tale of Two Journeys
November Paynter | Which Way is Up?
The motive of traveling in a box, as a stow away, disguised as cargo inspired me as it associated notions of both the fantasy of travel and escape – out of utter desperation – as in immigration, or escape from slavery, while both blend into one an utopian idea of arriving at a “better place”.
For the special environment of the Threshold Wave’s 22-screen display environment I use both text and visually suggestive imagery as a means of storytelling through two separate elements. The work is a video performance; one channel of video sees me emulating the environment of a box, performing a monodrama from the position of one that is in a box and the other channel of video sees me still, deadpan in Blackface disguise. The videos are rotated and re-positioned on the 22 screens.
The audio is the reading of the stories of Charles Mc Kinley and Henry “Box” Brown respectively. In later versions of the installation, this element is developed into another single channel of video, positioned to the side, where the text that is read (in english) scrolls on the screen translated to the local language.
Blackface is loaded with reference to American minstrel show, stereotyping black roles and is synonymous with racial discrimination embedded in the history of American entertainment. Here I use blackface as another form of drag. Consequently, I challenge the role stereotype by casting myself in two different roles, by making a dichotomy, black/ white – fact/fiction as a means to develop the narrative.
This work is developed after my visit to the south of the US where racism is still a problematic issue. I feel that it is not beside the point to mention that this year marks 200 years of the abolition of slavery. (L.R. 2007)