Last Ladies of the United States, The Queen Bedroom Suites: An Elegy to Sally Hemmings
Susan Antinori Visual Artist Grant Winner
The proposed mixed-media project, “The Bedroom Suites: An Elegy to Last Lady Sally Hemmings” is a series of thirteen exquisitely extravagant human dresses that are composed primarily out of 15,000 xerox collage and a colorful admixture of oil paints. These hybrid paper-sculptural-paintings, a drawing invention that was birthed and perfected within the past two years in studio, is governed by the central tenets of Black Fungibility, which posits blackness as an unstoppable growth of pure beingness, imagination, beauty and poetry. Using the office of the first lady and the prison industrial complex as a fungible springboard, Norman aims to untangle and complicate the psychological and literal body of a woman whose identity is entirely hinged and needlessly compromised based on her close proximity or lack thereof to power. The Bedroom suites, though maintaining the conceptual integrity of past series, has an erotic twist as it divulges unapologetically into the controversial 1790s saga that is chronicled in the most salacious of details, about the ongoing extramarital relationship between slave Sally Hemings and the 3rd US President Thomas Jefferson. While Ms. Hemings was never granted "First Lady" status, her mystique as a seductress and a shadow heir to one of the most endearing political American dynasties, has captivated the historical imaginary for centuries, as well as eclipse and blight the cultural and political relevance of the “real” First Lady and official legal heiress, Martha Wayles; both women contend, within their respective lifetimes and post alterity, for Jefferson’s unrequited love. Project wrangles with this sordid fascination—by interrogating the grotesque, the hodge-podge of ideological misalignments, the spectacular untruths, the gross immorality, the blatant racism, the sexism, the colorism, the crimes of miscegenation, the devout hate-mongering, the political libel, extortion, party corruption, underage sex and so forth, all and all making this Hemings-Jefferson-Wayles love-tryst a perfect Trumpian-Stormy carnival. Paper- sculptural paintings are then a heartfelt homage to an incredulous idealism and a woeful nod to our sudden turn to fascism. Human dresses are then more than just metaphors but are literal embodiments of this meteoric-level of incestousness and preposterousness. Carnal tresses are seductive and fleshly provocateurs that paint an iconic yet carnivalesque portraiture of the political, moral and theoretical entanglements ensuing both the Jeffersonian-Hemmings past and the Trumpian-Stormy present. And so series’ objectives are ultimately to upend the stoicism of the oligarch and find innumerable ways to dirty up their pristine image. Graffiti their sterile white spaces with the infectious bodies of the morally and biologically corrupt. Series would become a testament of how the relentless pursuit of ripping apart the facade of supposedly American decorum, class and history –can somehow lay bare the frightening truth of a nation who has an irresistible penchant to be shamelessly hypocritical.