The Colour of Bones
“No matter what the difference the colour of their skin had been, it was impossible to say that the black man’s sun dried flesh was any less black than the white man’s. Alive, you couldn't go wrong in the distinguishing between a white man and a black man. Dead, you had great difficulty in telling them apart. ”
The title of this work acts as a metaphor for the way people are judged by their colour. It prefaces a series of images that re-create childhood memories shared by myself and my half-sister, who is of mixed race. In this work, the biological realism between half-siblings provides a narrative that plays out in a changing landscape of emotions — an unstable relationship from the past shaped by racial, familial and political divide.
By exploring family secrets and notions of identity and race, I hope to express a feeling of regret and offer a form of apology to my half-sister; in the hope that we can find a point of mutual understanding, where differences are acknowledged and a new, shared experience is created.
As someone whose family was divided by the political and social consequences of segregation, I have experienced at close hand the distances it forced between people. An already confusing relationship was made worse by the sense that my half-sister was somehow ‘other’, someone who didn’t belong on our side of the colour bar.
As an artist, I have tried to express this sense of disconnection through my practice. As part of my investigative process, it has been useful to consult my siblings on the subject. The resulting conversations have been invaluable, giving me different perspectives on the same memory.
“Perhaps photography is one of the most significant art forms to consider in the act of reconciliation; the very act of encountering an image can mend the breach, allowing us to acknowledge past wrongs, forgive and forget". (Dag Petersson)
My half-sister has been unfailingly generous in her support of this work; indeed, her creative writing has become an intrinsic part of it, fusing her memory to mine and finding a common ground. I hope that this becomes a position of strength for both of us, from which to embrace honesty, generosity, humility, commitment, courage and sacrifice.