This installation of letterpress prints was initiated by a discussion with Eric Gottesman about African-American author Zora Neale Hurston, and a further discussion with my Visual Journals class about Hurston’s short story, Sweat. Through her raw and powerful narrative style, Hurston tells a tale of domestic violence in early 20th century rural Florida, engaging readers in a broader dialogue about what constitutes ethical behavior in a battle of good versus evil. My all-female class considered how gender and race shape identity, compelled by the ways in which the main female character identifies herself in relation to her abusive husband. They examined how intimate relationships shape our identities, and how powerful these relationships can be in our lives. Afterwards, each student created an erasure poem based on a page from this story and other Hurston texts. I selected some of the erasure poems and began a process of using them to generate letterpress prints. By hand-setting movable type, and printing the text using found handmade papers, I began to experiment with the impression and ink quality of each print. At first, I was just looking for variety, but soon I began to make “mistakes” on purpose—even allowing the press to mangle the paper—very quickly expanding my previous understanding of the expressive capacities of the medium of letterpress. Making these prints became a process akin to creative writing; I was discovering an expressive style as a I documented an experimental experience. The prints began to take on the pain of the words the students had chosen from the original text. I found I was reacting to their choices as well as my own reading of the story. The installation reflects the many iterations of this collaborative process, words layered and repeating, taped and pinned to the wall in an unending echo of the universal truths expressed by the author.
installed February 2016 at University of Central Florida, Art Gallery as part of the exhibition "The Encounter: Baalu Girma and Zora Neale Hurston" co-curated by Eric Gottesman and Yulia Tikonova.
As the origin of the installation was an erasure poem workshop with Rollins students, I recreated this workshop for the community at UCF in conjunction with the show. To create an erasure poem, participants are given copies of random texts and asked to look for "themselves or for their present state of mind" in the text. They can circle, black out, white out, cut out, etc.—using any form of hand editing to create these erasures.