The multihued form in Phillis and Olaudah is a digital manipulation of a physical archive that contains a decade of personal writings and records. It collects and carries histories. This still image parallels the stories of two African contemporaries. In the 18th century, Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano were stolen and enslaved as children. They later learned how to read and write during a period when doing so risked lives and limbs. Their poems and essays garnered international acclaim and proved to be vital resources in the abolitionist movement.
In 1773, both individuals were at sea. Wheatley, a global sensation, was sailing to London to meet dignitaries who helped become the first Black person in the United States and the third American woman to publish a volume of poetry. Equiano, who left England a few months prior, was embarking on an expedition to the Arctic. He would later recount his travels and formative experiences in his world-renowned autobiography.
Through their achievements, both authors transfigured presumptions and fractured faulty social structures. They defied preconceived notions about their class, gender and race.
The suspended children’s blocks illustrate the tension between peril and purpose. Formative and current events carve ambiguous shapes on the cubes as they roll and unfold. Some blocks are blank or battered with chipped paint. They indicate tales untold that occurred but went unrecorded. Others float, poised to inscribe inspirational stories that have yet to transpire.