Communing with the Griot (Elegy for Grandma Kathryn) explores the tacit legacy of inaccessible West African heritage in the contemporary culture of slave-descendent African Americans. The work centers around the analogous relationship of disconnected heritage between myself and my paternal grandmother, who passed away before I was born. Mirroring the West African tradition of the griot–––traveling poets who orally record and share cultural histories–––I traveled across the American South, visiting and interviewing older family members to create an oral history of my grandmother’s life. From these stories I learned of my grandmother’s Alabama lemon cake, a family recipe prepared only for occasions of celebration and reunion. As a focal food item in these events, the production, consumption, and embodiment of the cake catalyzed the recounting of family lore: the very stories I had collected in my role as a griot. Furthermore, as it was passed down and reiterated in new contexts by new generations, each production of the cake took on a novel form, just as the stories of the griot mutate and evolve during each retelling. The cake in this piece is a reproduction based on my aunt’s version of my grandmother’s recipe. Informed by my collected oral histories, the components of the sculpture directly reference the aesthetic surfaces of my grandmother’s curated home during her life. Under the table, four-channel speakers play overlapping recordings of the collected oral histories.

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