When I am over the pot cooking the sugar I think of my grandmother and the crab boils in her back yard, in the pot and process of making these objects I think of the dark blue indigo dyed hands of the black women in the sea islands who harvested and processed the indigo that was grown there until the storm of 1863.
In 2016 I took a road trip across the country following sites that were listed in the Green Book Negro Motorist guide, 1955 edition - my plan was to drive across the southern route from Los Angeles to my home town of Beaufort South Carolina - I had hoped to visit indigo plantations and get a sense of the energy and presence there and to perhaps see if there was any indigo growing. When I went to the South Carolina history archives at the Beaufort Library in order to do plantation research and locate the plantations that I would visit, I learned that indigo cultivation/ harvesting in Beaufort and the sea islands came to a halt in 1863 after a hurricane wiped out the majority of the indigo plantations.
I worked as an herbalist and had a tea company and in addition to thinking about connecting with plant energy and how that can serve as a portal to new spaces, feelings, bodily experiences I wanted to think about different forms that could do the same thing and working with crochet and textile was a means of exploring the idea of a physical portal created with my hands. I started to work with the tea bags and I was encouraged to do so by a mentor at the time - I was frustrated and working through moving away from crochet and thinking through how to explore these ideas of Southern history and moving to new places energetically and I had all these tea bags around me from my tea business. It was such an abundant material in my space that I didn’t see as such. When I was reminded of this I started to work with the unopened unbleached tea bags - I started opening them and sewing them together - only after I had a formula for doing so. I was encouraged to think of a structure to build this piece from and I started with the number 9 and its relationship to beginnings, endings, transformation and the Yoruba diety Oya. I reflected on how design and spirituality must have been in conversation with one another in the Black quilting traditions in the south.
I thought a lot about the quilting histories of the Southern United States and the intricate designs that were not only practical but aesthetically incredible. Over time the tea bag piece and its scale has served as a space to reflect on cellular structure, body counts and portals to other places where new possibilities may occur.
I started to think about the sugar pour process in relationship to the crab boil this summer when making new sugar pours and having the process documented by a Trinidadian American photographer Sasha Phayars Burgess. I was cooking the sugar over a fire pit outside , stirring when the sugar would begin to bubble and Sasha asked me if my grandmother ever cooked outside in a big pot like the one I was cooking in. I said yes, she would make crab boil, with crab legs, potatoes, sausage, corn… I asked if Sasha’s family cooked in the same way and she talked to me about the process of making browning with sugar. This conversation felt so tied and in connection to my initial intentions of the sugar piece - an exploration of the beauty of the black burnt sugar, an exploration of the history of sugar cultivation during the era of transatlantic slavery - and a reflection on who harvested this material and how this material has had an impact on many lineages since that time. And how this material built the foundation of economic prosperity for sugar plantation owners.