Is This Not A Legacy is a love poem for objects and human remains housed in museums, closets, and collections. By love, I ask if your acquisition is rooted in longing, a confusion of desire, possession, and necessity. To you, artifacts and persons of the pasts, tell me:
Were you a gift?
Uprooted from funerary sites?
Results of theft?
Forms of currency?
Repercussions of barter or trade?
Consequences of capture?
By love, I ask how inheritors of this legacy will release these narratives from manifest destiny, settler colonial nostalgia, and captivity. By love, how can I afford to look and not question the harm of my gaze? By love, I mean how the architecture of emptiness and silence can also be sacred.
Love is a marriage of the past and the present.
Love often troubles me, too. Love often carries me, too. I am working in response to love, or to the question that holds me. I am held by love; it is sometimes a warm rapture. It is sometimes a shared instant released to memory. It is sometimes knowing that an unfavorable action might be a test of loyalty. It is sometimes a wish, that remains a wish. It is sometimes knowing that destruction is an unspoken ask for attention.
For every proclaimed thing or person I have loved, there is never a monument. For every proclaimed thing or person I have loved, I wonder where it will land.
For now, I would like to place an open call. I am placing an open call to ask about a statue of Paul Robeson. Dear lovers of the world, keepers of history, who have looked, and remain looking, have you seen Paul Robeson?
Paul Robeson warns us: “Every artist, every scientist, every writer must decide now where he stands. The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice.”
Paul Robeson was Black. Was Paul Robeson loved? Paul Robeson was an activist, orator, rugby star, actor, lawyer, writer, singer—a true polymath whose tongue and talent found him overseas often.
Was Paul Robeson seen? Paul Robeson was friends with cameras. Paul Robeson was one of the most surveilled persons of his time.
Have you seen Paul Robeson?
Remember that time when a statue of Paul Robeson disappeared? Sculptor Antonio Salemme created a full-size rendering of Robeson in plaster, painted him the color of bronze. The sculpture made rounds in San Francisco, but the offer to exhibit it in Philadelphia was retracted upon arrival.
In New York, the sculpture of Paul Robeson was met with outrage. Salemme replied with a modification to his creation––a fig leaf to shield viewers from Paul Robeson’s reproductive organs. Despite the invitation, the sculpture was not shown. Later, the sculpture was transported to Paris and, afterward, never seen again.
Have you seen Paul Robeson?
I am not surprised you have seen sacred funerary objects buried deep into the earth, intended for the afterlife. I am not surprised you have not seen Paul Robeson. I am not surprised you have seen a former “founding father” mounted––and now dismounted––upon horses across the nation, and have carried his coined silhouette in the lining of your pocket. I am not surprised you have not seen Paul Robeson.
Love is, sometimes, a secret. Love is, sometimes, exposed. If we ever see Paul Robeson again, we should tell him he was loved. If we further memorialize Paul Robeson, we should tell the people who loved him. If we loved Paul Robeson, we are belated in honoring his former wife. She saw Paul Robeson.