Art That Helps Us Remember Correctly: Colin Quashie

Charleston is a beautiful city and a lively destination site filled with hot restaurants and nightlife. Charleston is also said to have the port of entry from more than half of the slaves brought to the United States. There is one museum dedicated to slavery in the city. While nicely done, it fails to convey the horrors of slavery. Whips and shackles seem more like art objects rather torture devices.

Although there is mention that in the South up to 50,000 slaves escacped each year up until the Civil War, you learn nothing about the Stono Rebellion, the largest slave uprising on the British mainland prior to the American Revolution, or the Denmark Vesey Conspiracy, in 1822, which precipitated a vicious backlash by whites and led to 35 hangings.

What art that is available in the City Market reflects the stylized view of the South. Billowing skirts against black skin and blue sky that idealize the Gullah culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry are the main motifs. Charleston is surrounded by the nostalgia of Gone With the Wind. Many housing sub-divisions are called Plantation something or other, a nomenclature that strikes my Northern ears as chilling.

The shock of slavery and racism was best conveyed to me by the work of Colin Quashie, a contemporary artist living in Charleston. “Plantation,” the exhibit of his work at the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, struck me in gut. His work is described as Op-Ed Art. In it Quashie brings together the past and the present through creations such as Plantation Monopoly and a riff on the J. Crew catalogue that features items such as a chic black tie that is a hangman’s noose.

Quashie’s work doesn’t go down well with a chamber of commerce and it hard to imagine the tourist office directing traffic to his studio. Psychic pain and historic truths aren’t good for business. But artists aren’t meant to make us comfortable but to break through the frozen seas of self-satisfaction. Quashie is very good at bringing an ax to the collective unremembering


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