Memory Keepers

Memory Keepers was created for The Black Woman is God: Divine Revolution exhibition in San Francisco, CA

Photo transfer, acrylic, fabric, natural honeycomb, wood burning and carving on found wood 79” x 35”, 2017

My Bibi (grandmother) is one in long line of memory keepers in my family.  She reminds us why, in every generation, a child is named Leti. She sings songs in Kinyaturu and recounts stories about Leti, our woman-warrior ancestor who organized a rebellion against Germans colonizers in Tanzania. She tells us of Leti’s unparalleled strength and courage, of the animal skins she wore – garments that were traditionally worn only by men in battle. "She was the only woman in our tribe who fought with the men. When Leti was eventually killed by the Germans, because they had guns and we only had spears and knives, they took her body from us to examine what made her so fierce. They cut open her head and looked inside her brain” Bibi tells us “But that was the wrong part. They should have searched in her heart”.

‘Memory Keepers’ explores family mythology and the oral tradition - how (r)evolution is embodied in the women of the African diaspora through storytelling, song and the naming of children - traversing language, geographic location and time. Drawing from my own ancestral lineage, this work evokes the spirit of Leti, a Nyaturu woman-warrior, whose name has been carried forth by the women in my family from generation to generation. Natural honey comb and bees pay homage to the bee-keepers among the women in my family as well as reference the significance of bees in African diasporic spiritual practices. Combining Tanzanian traditional art techniques of wood burning and woodcarving with photo-transfer and painting, the work serves as a reminder that we can call on ancestral wisdom and our legacy of revolutionary women to guide us and give us strength.