S. Erin Batiste

USA

I present “The majestic past was cast and created and rose . . .” along with six additional new works and my first audio collage from my Major Arcana collage series, which features/reclaims early 20th century mugshots of Black New Orleanian women and girls. Since traveling to New Orleans, I’ve archived 110 Black women and girls with the deep consideration that for most, these are likely the only photographs that exist from their lifetimes. I am connecting them with protective symbology and language, transporting them to other dimensions and worlds. I’ve spent this past year living with, looking and listening to the archive—its failings, its secrets, its possibilities. I hope that you receive something from the work.

“The majestic past was cast and created and rose . . .”

and six other new works from the Major Arcana series

Artist Notes

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Transcript | S. Erin Batiste — “The majestic past was cast and created and rose . . .” plus six other new works from the collage series, “Major Arcana”

S. Erin Batiste — “The majestic past was cast and created and rose . . .” plus six other new works from the collage series, “Major Arcana”

O|Sessions Black Listening — Audio Collage Transcript:

Twelve Silk Dresses (refrain x12)

Artesia, California
I didn’t find any newspaper articles, but I found her family. She had fourteen siblings; some had moved out to California and some to Chicago. After her six-month prison sentence, she made it out too. Bessie died March 1974 in Artesia, California.

Her name was Bessie (refrain x12)

Authorities
It must be admitted that mixed up with that respectability / was this filth.
But when we ask what constitutes noble birth—should our eyes be light.
Light eyes, for examples, are passage;
To be born with a light nose / branches broke off from the mother stem.

By degrees, / She was a lady who was the very opposite of
—A lady with “a very light complexion—pale, lucid, eyes; thin colorless lips /
. . . a nose and chin projective without breadth.”

Hers was the pale face of air, light, freedom.
Thus closely united, thus immensely divided,
Between them lay the widest
Gulf radiating peculiar benevolence,

Her name was Cora (refrain x12)

Hours, days, weeks, it seemed of darkness and
of cedar wood and sandalwood and mahogany;
of male bodies and female bodies; of men
servants and maid servants. The darkness thickened.

Another night had folded its blackness over / and in
came the blackest, most formidable. The old gods
allowed to profit from your goodness
ought to be properly ashamed for past wickedness,

;the earth, here hard, here soft;
here hot, here cold, stung, pawed and clawed them;
cursed and quarrelled over them.
They were in a world where they were fatal,
muses regretfully; in a world where kin never knew
whether they were being taken to be killed or to be freed.

Twelve Silk Dresses (refrain x12)

Florestine was born on September 14th, 1886 about sixty-five miles upriver. Florestine was known for her “taking ways” and being “quite quick with her fingers,” once arrested for stealing twelve silk dresses. Florestine died in December 1922 when she was just 36 years old. They said she left no personal statements or testimony to her life, but for the record of the twelve silk dresses.

Twelve Silk Dresses (echo refrain x12)

They wrote she was fourteen in quotes. (refrain x5)
She looked like just a girl. (refrain x5)

Cazimi
The sun burnt deliciously
and tempered its heat to a champagne freshness.

this hot patch of sun—how sun made
dark red stains on the pavement—how
she delighted in the sun; devoured whole

the sunshine and let it burn through her shadow naked
open to show her flesh.

For a moment she was trans-
formed; darkness opened; light poured over. / The
sun burnt and loved blazed.

Her name was Alzena. One of the meanings of the name Alzena is “imaginative, creative, analytical woman longing for freedom.”

And there, a mahogany lady bountifully apparelled /
starred with flowers
Gathering her glory and delight, / she glanced
their hopes, their wishes, their special purpose; /
she was changed, /
Now the blood ran once more;
in a splendor of red
clear and fierce and tingled; flesh formed;
and troubled with the dust
The season was at its height.
The majestic past was cast and created and rose

Her name was Julliet. She was a dressmaker. (refrain x5)

Twelve Silk Dresses (closing refrain x12)

Batiste Artist Statement for Obsidian O|Sessions Black Listening

Listening to the Archive

I do Black women’s work. My poetry and collage center the lives and experiences of Black women and girls, matrilineage and ancestors. My practice is based on accumulation and maximalism, and I am influenced by beauty, the desert and the cosmos, migration, divination and astrology, archives, Americana, and what remains. My work examines freedom, the complexity of memory, what we consider history, and the ways we all inherit and collect possessions and stories.

I am an interdisciplinary poet and much of my work relies on history as a primary source. I want readers and viewers to take away a sense of beauty and history, however, I want their notion of what is beautiful, what is history and America/na to have been challenged. I want viewers coming to the work with their own various data (i.e. race, gender, age, class, education, religion, geography) to leave feeling like whatever they initially carried to have been complicated.

In November 2022 I traveled to New Orleans for a week-long collage lab under the theme, “City as Archive,” working with archives from the public library. In my search I was stunned by the absence of Blackness and Black people. Sadly, the majority of Black imagery that I found was in the carceral state–mugshots and “Bertillon Cards,” an early attempt at racial profiling. I archived 110 Black girls and women from the early 20th century with the deep consideration that when they were arrested and their mugshots captured, photography was still early tech, so these are likely the only photographs that exist of most of these women from their lifetimes. I started the series, “Major Arcana”–where I am connecting them along with space images from the Hubble Telescope, and other protective symbology and language, to help transport them into other possible worlds and dimensions.

As I’ve prepared seven new works in preparation for this exhibition, I recalled the many modes of Black listening and the ways that Black folk listen that my group explored last summer. I have listened to the creases and grooves and fading in the archive: cursive notes in the margins of arrest records, the soundtrack of my own life as I’ve cut some of them from their worst days, the internet articles on the two women who I was able to locate, sometimes the silence. I’ve listened during all this cutting and visual remixing–discovering repetitions and connections and synchronicities–the woman with fourteen siblings, the girl who the arresting officers wrote age “14” in quotes, the infamous woman who on one occasion stole twelve silk dresses, the beautiful dressmaker with the gentle, rebellious smile, the one whose name meant “longing for freedom”–and how they all were, we all are longing for freedom in some way. I’ve spent one year now–living with and looking at the archive–but also calling out and receiving, recovering and reclaiming what the women might have said, never said, would say, could say, and the unsayable.

Artesia, California (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, glitter, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", black and white.

Artesia, California

Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, glitter, glue tape
2023, 12” x 9”

Authorities (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, vintage books, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", black and white.

Authorities

Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, vintage books, glue tape
2023. 12” x 9”

The earth, here hard, here soft, here hot, here cold (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, vintage books, velvet, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", black, purple, sepia, fire images.

The earth, here hard, here soft, here hot, here cold

Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, vintage books, velvet,
glue tape, 2023, 12” x 9”

Twelve Silk Dresses (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, glitter, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", brown, red, pink, orange, fire images.

Twelve Silk Dresses

Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, glitter, glue tape
2023, 12” x 9”

"14" (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photo, chipboard, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", purple, sepia, black, and white.

“14”

Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, cardboard, glue tape
2023, 12” x 9”

Cazimi (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photo, vintage / books, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", pyrite (gold), brown, and red.

Cazimi

Mixed-media collage; paper, magazines, archival photos, vintage/books, glue tape
2023, 12” x 9”
The majestic past was cast and created and rose (title) by Batiste. Mixed-media collage; paper, archival photo, vintage books, stickers, glue tape. 2023, 12" x 9", green, sepia, cream, and yellow.

The majestic past was cast and created and rose

Mixed-media collage; paper, archival photos, vintage books, stickers, glue tape
2023, 12” x 9”

S. Erin Batiste

S. Erin Batiste

Biography

 

S. Erin Batiste is an interdisciplinary poet and artist. She is a 2023 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Poetry and Winner of the 2023 New Letters Patricia Cleary Miller Award for Poetry. She has received fellowships and generous support from Cave Canem and PEN America among other honors. Author of the chapbook, Glory to All Fleeting Things, her poetry has been published in Interim, wildness, You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, and In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy.

Batiste runs Revival Archival Cards, Collage & Salvage — a collage mobile arts studio in Brooklyn. Her collages have appeared/are forthcoming in Create! Magazine, MQR, and The BOOOOOOOM Care Art & Photo Book, her artwork has exhibited in New York, and her first videopoem is debuting this fall at The Center for Afrofuturist Studies 2023 Ordinary Survival Inaugural Film Festival. Her practice is based on accumulation and maximalism, and she is influenced by beauty, the desert and the cosmos, migration, divination and astrology, archives, Americana, and what remains. Her work centers Black women and examines themes of freedom, the complexity of memory, what we consider history, and the ways we all inherit and collect possessions and stories.

S. Erin Batiste can be found at www.sbatistewrites.com

Wanda Coleman, Toni Morrison, Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, Claudia Rankine, Krista Franklin, Douglas Kearney, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Malcolm X, Nikki Giovanni, Natasha Trethewey, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Andra Day, Jamila Woods, Mara Hruby, Betye Saar, Vanessa German, Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, Lorraine O’Grady—just a mouthful from my poetic and artistic constellation and lineage. I’ve included a gathering of writers, performers and creators due to them all being intentional, singular and pioneering in their respective fields and offerings—each has struck me at critical moments in my life, keeping me company along my way.

Black Listening's website front page header art and Obsidian 49.2 cover art were  created by Nettrice Gaskins

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