Bicentennial Baby, artist statement
This project began the summer of 1981, when my family and I traveled to St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia. We enjoyed the sunshine, the warm water, and numerous historical sites. We were especially drawn to sites related to southern plantations, burial grounds, and religious markers. Over time and with the help of my mother’s photographs, this trip became a cherished, idyllic memory for us. Being a child from the Midwest, I never met anyone else familiar with this island, which forwarded my perception of the uniqueness of the experience.
As an adult, in 2018, I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and viewed the work by Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Ebo Landing), from the Sea Island Series. It included black-and-white photos of a creek on St. Simons Island where a mass suicide had taken place, along with this text:
One midnight at high tide a
ship bringing in a cargo of Ebo (Ibo)
men landed at Dunbar Creek on the
Island of St. Simons. But the men refus-
ed to be sold into slavery; joining hands
together they turned back toward the
water, chanting, “the water brought us,
the water will take us away.” They all
drowned, but to this day when the
breeze sighs over the marshes and
through the trees, you can hear the
clank of chains and the echo of
their chant at Ebo Landing.
My mother’s images filled my head, and I recognized the similarities between Weems’ photographs and the Riggleman archives from 1981. Not being from the South, this was the first outside reference to St. Simons Island I had come across. I was compelled to return to the island to explore how I, as a white Christian cisgender male, had come to remember this land and sea, and how it may differ from the way others have seen, experienced, and known it. In 2021, forty years after the initial trip, I returned with my young family and two college art students, Katie Ito and Rinnah Shaw to look, listen, and feel.