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Don't Knock At The Door Little Child: Wessyngton Plantation

Josée Bienvenu is pleased to present the third installment of "Present," a series of guest-curated exhibitions in the Project Space.

     Born in 1995 in New York City, Josie Roland Hodson is currently a sophomore studying at Stanford University. She is majoring in Art History with a focus on contemporary art:

     Keris Salmon’s first gallery exhibition, “Don’t Knock at the Door, Little Child,” presents a collection of photographs of a Tennessee tobacco plantation, Wessyngton Plantation, that, in their quietude, relay a sense of the unease entrenched in the history of slavery.

     The exhibition is titled after a line from “Black Woman,” a poem by Georgia Douglas Johnson. Johnson, a revered poet of the Harlem Renaissance, fears bringing a child into the world in which she lives: “The world is cruel, cruel, child, / I cannot let you in!” she writes. The exhibition explores many relationships — Salmon’s relationship to her own past, her relationship with her white partner and his family’s implication in slavery, and, finally, her relationship with her children, and a future generation that will continue to grapple with an identity born from a tragic history.

     Salmon’s direct connection to this plantation was born out of her relationship with her long-time partner, now her husband, a white man whose family had once owned Wessyngton. The descendants sold the 2,300 acre property in the 1980s. In 2009, a book called “The Washingtons of Wessyngton” by John Baker was published, scrupulously detailing the life on Wessyngton plantation. A museum exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum soon followed the book. Salmon and her partner went down to the opening. The emotionally-charged visit prompted Salmon, trained as a journalist, to produce these works: “I had read Baker's fine book, and had an anecdotal knowledge of some of Wessyngton's history as recounted to me by Frank - the hams they smoked there were widely reknowned. But it wasn’t until I was rolling past the imposing iron gates and setting foot on the frost-flecked property the day after the museum opening that I was drawn to create something that came equally from my curiosity as a journalist and my instincts as a visual thinker,” she writes.

     The 6 photographs in this series combine exterior images of the house as it now stands, with text drawn from Baker's book, much of which is available at the Robertson County Historical Society outside of Nashville. They are the first installment of a larger project she is developing on antebellum plantations. Salmon worked with letterpress master printer Peter Kruty to come up with a typeface and type design that best reflected some of the most widely disseminated publications of the pre-war era: slave auction and runaway posters.
     Salmon — a third generation New Yorker — has never lived in the South nor spent any time on or around plantations, and yet there is an undeniable impression of familiarity displayed in these images and their accompanying text, biographical passages reappropriated as poetry. In this familiarity, the images become the story of the collective internalized trauma of a generation and of a race. Through these photographs, Salmon explores a relationship with a place and time in which she has never lived, and yet feels a kinship to, one that has persisted throughout her life and will into future generations — namely, mine.

     I am a young curator and Salmon’s daughter. I have never been to the South, never visited Wessyngton plantation, and yet in these images are evoked memories that have been etched into me not through personal experience but through a collective memory. Recent racially charged events igniting protests from Missouri to New York are only further proof that the systemic racism that both produced and haunted the walls of Wessyngton and burdened my mother’s life, has not abated but quietly transformed.

- Josie Roland Hodson

     Born in Manhattan, Keris Salmon lives and works in Brooklyn. Keris is a journalist and artist. She graduated from Stanford University in 1981 and from UC Berkeley with a degree in Journalism in 1985. After a career in documentary filmmaking, she recently turned to telling stories with still images, creating multi-media projects that explore family histories. This is Salmon's first solo exhibition, select group exhibitions include: The Migration, Arsenal Gallery, New York (2015), Free For All, Space Gallery, Portland, ME (2012), Feast Your Eyes, Powerhouse Arena, Brooklyn (2012).
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Don't Knock At The Door Little Child: Wessyngton Plantation
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