My project Snow White, Black Sheep combines the practices of land art, archaeology, environmentalism, and photography in an effort to know more about my family, immediate and distant, using the tools, objects, and knowledge they shared.
The following images are from the Excavations section of the project. They are framed and displayed in three grids that resemble archaeological dig sites. Square by square, I uncover significant items that reveal family histories. Most images include arrowheads I inherited from my grandfather, a well-known environmentalist. I use the arrowheads and other natural materials to create small, ephemeral earthwork installations that express an artistic principle or element. The images and field notes act as a map that take viewers on a journey to find my grandmother’s stolen fur coats.
The entire project mirrors the archaeological process, where I select a site to dig, excavate, and interpret the objects and information I’ve found. These objects bring me closer to the stories about family members, especially the women and the black sheep on my family tree. A standard family tree places biologically linked humans into nuclear (conjugal) units that descend from one man, the originator of the family name. Rebecca Solnit writes that typical genealogical records perform an erasure of women in an effort to maintain “patrilineal coherence.” Solnit calls the disappeared women on our family tree our “grandmothers.” Fittingly, I was inspired to start this project after the death of my grandmother. I found it curious too that some of my relatives described our ancestors as ‘black sheep' if they took non-normative, even more artistic paths in their life. To honor that, I archive my family history from an artist’s perspective and subvert the traditional genealogical record. Every earthwork, an artistic principle or element, uses the language of an artist as a way to express relationships, family members, and the meanings of objects they left behind. By using the earth, digging into it, I want to re-wild the family tree and, if possible, decolonize the act of recording family history. I place the arrowheads and objects back into the ground to take root. My journey retracing my family history parallels the journey of the typical fairy tale princess. Snow White must run from her given family, an evil stepmother tied to her through her father’s marriage. On the run, Snow White discovers another family in the woods. As a fairy tale princess, she experiences her most significant moments, realizations and confrontations, while in the woods. It is there too, where I grow.