Let This Be A Lesson, or Caring for Historical Records
An essay for the Art AIDS America Chicago catalog by Alphawood Foundation.
Although we don’t always think of it this way, history is a mighty and ferocious tool. When done well, it has the ability to conjure up forces and galvanize coalitions of people who perhaps rarely or never had the privilege of fully knowing their lineage or their cultural, social, or geographic inheritance. An understanding and exertion of history can open our world in ways that were previously unimaginable and trigger a chain reaction that makes visible a hidden piece of human ancestry that we can no longer imagine living without access to. On the contrary, when it falls into neglectful, self-serving hands, the exploitation of history has the ability to cause the unraveling and erasure of entire cultures and truths.
But sometimes erasure is seemingly unintentional and history becomes a victim of circumstance. When history isn’t met with the resources and tools that allow for proper preservation--whether it be physical structures or the human history books who hold and transfer these knowledges--it runs the risk of being lost. Even in all of its ferociousness, history is one of the most vulnerable and susceptible tools we have. Elders pass away everyday. Entire archival and family collections end up destroyed because of deterioration over time or are discarded. The keepers and caretakers of history make editorial and aesthetic decisions that prioritize some histories over others, writing out stories that will continue to remain buried just below the surface. Then, the vulnerabilities of history are further intensified when you overlay them with the realities of the most abandoned, fettered, and violently targeted populations of our planet. It makes clear the urgency of care that needs to be given and the fact that the weight of what’s at stake is real.
When western art conventions are employed as the primary tool for storytelling, entire populations of people are left out automatically. Art is a parameter that is inherently broken because it comes with its own history of discrimination and calculated amnesia that mimics other historical narratives but comes with problems distinctly its own.
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