Responses to the Whitney Plantation

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AUTHORS. 2019. “Whitney Plantation ” In Quotidian Anthropocene, edited by Kim Fortun and Scott Knowles. September 2019.

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Analytic Prompt

  1. Based on what you learned at the Whitney today, how do we go past the first hurdle of public history (gaining people's interest) and on to a deeper level of engagement?

  2. How might you contribute to the additional challenge that Ashley posed to us: developing public education material that examines a longer history of violence linking slavery, industrialism and beyond

Amanda

I wonder if we are looking in the wrong places for the answer to the first question posed. While I’m sure that as a group we could spend time teasing out the contours of where public history ends and where entertainment begins, I think existing media may already be doing some of this work. 

Small example: One of the testimonies etched on to the memorials yesterday stated: “All My brothers and sisters was sold, and the man that bought me said he was going to bring us where money grew on trees. And you know what that was? Picking moss!” This reminded me of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Money Trees’:

And I been hustlin' all day, this a way, that a way/ Through canals and alleyways, just to say/

Money trees is the perfect place for shade and that's just how I feel... 

While this song isn’t directly making a reference to the plaque or it’s sentiment - we do know from Lamar’s existent work that he is often pulling from history to reckon with today (2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly). The reach and scope of his music travels in through the mentioned hurdles quite profoundly. In the process of trying to find another article this morning I found this one. https://medium.com/cuepoint/the-oral-history-of-kendrick-lamar-s-to-pimp-a-butterfly-622f725c3fde, that dives a bit into how a trip to South Africa and historical sites within proved inspirational for the album.  

Maria Torres

 A way in which some Ecuadorian schools relate to the Spanish conquest is by reflecting in all the knowledge that was lost by oppressing the hundreds of indigenous people. Like no system has ever been perfect the approach isn’t made by romanticizing past epochs, but as saying that there is a tremendous amount of knowledge that now is lost or even worst, not valued because of ethnicism. I think that by talking about/teaching about, the cultures and communities where slaves came from is a good way to make people engage with slavery, not only to think in the fact of the plantations and all the human rights violations that occurred there, but to think also about all the ideas, art, knowledge, myths, history lost in this process along with the human lives. Another way to talk about this is through emphasizing that all human beings have huge potential, maybe just throw some numbers and creating science fiction, asking ourselves if slavery haven’t happened, if all people would have the chance to develop without racism where the world would be? Just asking little kids this utopian question could be really illuminating, both of this proposals can be made in museums, art exhibits, classrooms, comics, books, etc. 

Isabelle

Billowing trees, endless/transition into sugar cane. A creeping sinister/a weeping willow/white house/cabin-bound/ring the bell/in their memory. Remember Haiti/remember the women/children men/remember/do not forget/no place for rest. Plantation to petrochemical/physical embodiment of the mental/racism, plain and simple/yet complex, engrained. In every fiber of every plant/in every floorboard and flaming brick/the pain never left/was just transferred/to remain alive. We came and we learned/but what do we know/really know? And what will we do? Whiteness depends upon Blackness/to exist. Racism is not over, it persists/Innovation! Speculation! It is not just here/it is a world system. The borders of this plantation/do not end here. 

I would incorporate multiple modes into the exploration of slavery, including through poetry and other forms of creative writing. When visiting the Plantation, I found that much of what we saw and listened to was unfathomable, overwhelming, and intensely important. And I did not really know how to process it. I think that it is not only important to learn about slavery, but also how to process and understand how it influences our everyday--perhaps it “officially” ended, but it is still present in many, many ways. I think it is particularly crucial to bring what the Plantation has to offer to schools all across Louisiana, and that such a practice could be useful in Texas as well. And giving students the tools to work through what they learn in a manner that works for them--whether it’s writing poetry, stories, taking photos, making a film, making a website, creating a twitter feed, etc. Providing students with the information regarding how plantation slavery is inextricably tied to industrial pollution and exploitation, as well as how often times the notion of “innovation” is merely the perpetuation of the violence of Whiteness, merely in a different guise. I believe it is important to bring these stories to kids early on, so that they can compare what they learn from the Plantation and whatever outreach it engages in with what they read in textbooks--show them how to problematize what they read, see, hear. And I think poetry is just one of many excellent tools for both processing and memorializing what continues to leave a deep, lasting, excruciatingly painful ache in the U.S. Showing kids how this is relevant to them TODAY may have the potential for countering the tamed, silenced, and manicured versions of the history of slavery that we (society) like to tell ourselves. It is embedded in the structures of cities, in the farmlands, in the industrial and innovative corridors. On a side note, I am also interested in how memorialization of the history of slavery can move outside the bounds of the Congo Square and the Whitney Plantation Museum. Why is it that we permit the statues of white colonizers to permeate throughout the city, while the people who really should be memorialized are kept to particular spaces?

Ronny

As most of the time the learning process as well as awareness is by perception and visualizing, I propose the use of the new technologies. I have heard that most of history in New Orleans is documented, including in the center of the city. Thus, virtual reality can be useful by allowing to visualize through our smartphones the history of specific areas such as historical houses. An example could be: visitors or locals that are walking in the city can scan a QR code that allows people to deploy the virtual visualization of some specific people and giving some audio of those scenes.

 

Allana

I don’t know. Long answer: The first hurdle has been cleared: people are at the Whitney, but through self selection. I am interested in attracting the attention of those who choose not to go to the Whitney Plantation at all. The only approach I can conceive of is conversational--what reasons does one choose NOT to go to the Whitney? I would be genuinely in favor of constructioning a strategy from the responses.

Secondly, I am interested in increasing engagement through disruption. Roseanne cited Berlin’s Stepping Stone memorials as a successful artistic intervention in daily life while walking around the city, though the project is not without criticism of course (https://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims). The 1811 memorial was successfully disruptive in its imagery, and the statues of children demanded viewer engagement as our museum passes featured quotes from specific individuals matched with each statue. What could possibly be added to the Whitney to increase engagement in a way that requires suspension of all other activities?

I am thinking about how the persistent alienation of people from the landscape facilitates exploitation of humans and non-human species. By severing the ability to interact with landscape through terror (as in a plantation--enslaved people were not permitted to grow their own food) or government-sanctioned poisoning (In Reserve, citizens cannot grow their own food because of pervasive toxicity in the landscape), a dependence on outside sources and power structures for survival and income is ensured. 

What sense-engaging, quotidian-disrupting, landscape-based intervention could function not explicitly as a memorial, but as a vehicle for acknowledging the severing of human people from landscape and point towards strategies of re-establishing that connection? Is that even a good/needed idea? Ellen’s Artist Residency idea could potentially function as a think tank for these intervention strategies.

Ellen K. Foster

Hearing that The Whitney has special events and programming around dates like Juneteenth and Black History Month set me on the thought process of developing some kind of unschooling, experimental pedagogy programs, or more deeply engaged workshops on the premises. These could bring community members directly in contact with historical materials and the weight of historical narrative to shape our society, cultures, and current understandings of socioeconomic policy or practices. It could be weekend, week-long or month-long programming. It could result in developing new, interesting ways to engage and display the stories of the everyday (quotidian) experiences. Other thoughts along this line (of my own interests): a sound-walk could developed for the space. This could include the leading of deep listening practices on the premises, meditation, and movement experiences.

A possible branch of this could be an Artist-In-Residency program, in which artists spend time at the Whitney towards an end performance, painting, sculpture, video, creative writing, etc., but also develop community engagement programs that could be attended by the public for engaging histories and materials.  Maybe helping the public to elucidate and create their own visceral reactions to the space.

Another thought that would be more broad and outward facing, could be making a direct connection in exhibits to the carceral state and its throughline from slavery (the police force initially being put in place to capture people who escaped), bringing in current data regarding incarceration in Louisiana, specifically the areas around St. Johns and New Orleans. What would it look like to employ or create programming that also directly engaged previously incarcerated people, or those currently? Maybe a panel discussion, or specific skill and expertise development?

Still thinking on this, but I could also imagine a more interactive or further developed engagement of the freedom fighters and uprising memorial.

Urban →  Rural connection: How slavery built New Orleans, direction mapping and display of flows and accumulation of capital in these regards, and the material creation of New Orleans, as well as its material weight.

Omar

I am interested in observing how water has facilitated the establishment of these places, but at the same time has been utilized to perpetuate environmental injustices. At Whitney, it is pretty obvious that we were surrounded by water, but I think that interconnection of water and in the bigger context of the Mississippi river could be stressed. I would suggest have a section of the tour going through the swap and  Mississippi, while explaining how these flowing bodies have been used and what does it mean for different cultures. Each trip would produce data (images, oral, histories, audio) that would be used to build those share understanding, implications and interconection of water in slavery and the buildup of the labour movement.

Maka

 I am interested here in exploring historical connections between different sites. Looking through the documents displayed at the Whitney, I noticed payment envelopes that specified the various ways in which “master’s” accounting organized the lives of enslaved people (image 1). I don’t know whether these were original documents but they do point to the relevant role credit/debt had in enslaving even further those living within the plantation. Anything from interests, doctor bills, or credit advancements would be deducted from their pay. As we heard today, the plantation’s store was the only place where enslaved people could acquire goods—thus returning credit to the masters. Processes of borrowing and paying back masters are well known to have caused massive forms of indebtedness among slaves in the US as well as in many places throughout Latin American where large haciendas would mint their own money for the equivalent of 1 day’s work and provide indigenous enslaved populations with money to purchase goods in stores within haciendas (image 2). A different form of indebtedness was possible for masters because they could count human bodies as collateral to their transactions since people “belonged” to the hacienda (or plantation) and could be bought and sold. In the Ecuadorian context this expands into the creation of large banking systems that continue to engineer forms of modern enslavement through financial debt

I think one of the contributions that our work might add to the mix is the possibility of connecting stories like these both locally and transnationally. For instance, what would it look like if students in local schools in Cuenca were able to think about forms of oppression and enslavement that existed in Ecuador and in Louisiana through a pen pal exchange (possibly virtual)? Or, how could a comic strip tell children about these stories that happened so close to home but often absent from school curricula? The similarities between enslavement and indebtedness can be extrapolated to many aspects of the Anthropocene and help us what ties us at the global level while exploring local specificities.

Danica

One thought that comes to mind is the ways that the “Map Room” tactic was used in St. Louis. I wonder if one way to engage people with the ways that slavery and industrialism have played out in the spaces that have meaning to them (perhaps their city, neighborhood, state) could be to conduct a map room-esque experience but rather than focusing on the contemporary civic data for the area as we saw in St. Louis, the economic and political histories of that space (slavery and other forms of labor and how those interact with industrialism, capitalism, etc.) could be narrated. It wouldn’t work as well to project that “data” onto the space, but engaging a group with a physical map space and narrations of these histories might be one way for people to understand slavery and labor “in place”--in the very places they inhabit and move through. A limitation with this approach, however, might be that in focusing on the historic conditions/events of a physical location (as delimited by the map), the connections to broader systems and processes (as included in the interpretive framework provided by our guides at Whitney Plantation) may be harder to bring into people’s awareness.