In Plain Sight is the first body of work I created after discovering my families hidden African American ancestry. The Journey is a collection of works about my thoughts on hybridity, racism, colorism and caste.
The first work I created about my ancestry, Lost and Found, was cobbled together aided by Google and the scant details I knew of my family’s ancestry back in 2018. Since then, through research into the archives of James Madison’s Montpelier, the Montpelier Descendant Community and the help of a genealogist member of my family, we have reconstructed my family’s history from 1830 to present day. And in broader strokes, backwards from then until the birth of our nation. My family surname, Braxton, is descended from Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, tying our family’s ancestry to the history of America’s birth.
My family’s story of passing is that of a mixed-race marriage, which is unremarkable today, but we have seen recently in America that this can change. My grandfather was very light skinned Black man, and my grandmother was Canadian with Anglo and indigenous ancestry. They could not marry in America. My grandfather was sent by his employer to work in Europe. They married in London in 1910 and raised their family in France until they fled back to America during World War II. His marriage certificate was the first place that I saw he declared his race as white.
What is so disturbing to me about what I have learned through my research, and the reason I am telling this story, is because the racism and violence we have experienced recently is similar to state of our politics back in the late 1850’s after the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which developed into the Civil War. Freedom and equality continue to be hard fought.
While I will never know what it is like to be Black and experience the daily aggressions because of the color of my skin, I do know now how my Black ancestors were treated and how racism affected my family. We lost a great deal. I am an ally.
When I began researching my family’s ancestry back in 2017, I quickly realized that my knowledge of the history and brutality of slavery and segregation was lacking, and I think this is true for many Americans. It is important for me as an artist to share my truth, to tell the story of my ancestry and through my work, explore our interconnectedness.
My hope is that this work upends the idea of colorism. encourages the viewer to look deeper and learn the truth about the history and brutality of racial relations in this country. I believe truth, honesty and education about America's past is the key to a strong, peaceful, integrated and resilient future. Brotherhood is the goal. Humanity is the key. The Journey is the space where my sculptures examining issues of race and equality live.
“Humanism is our common faith: the belief that we are all interconnected is the higher ground that we call the world to” Reverend John Morehouse, UU, Westport, CT