Mixed Media Installation
The installation, Tar Baby, draws upon the iconography of the “Tar-Baby” from Black folktales about Brer Rabbit, to reinterpret the perceived value of Blackness. Beyond its role in Brer Rabbit’s story as a trap set by Brer Fox, the Tar-Baby has been used as a derogatory slur against dark skin. In Tar Baby, this slur is conceptually juxtaposed against the desire of Bengali sailors who, in the late 19th and early 20th century, passed as Black to circumvent the harsh US immigration laws against Asians at the time. The act of recontextualizing a derogatory icon as a symbol of desire, to reference historical events of people “passing” to achieve a better life, subverts it, and serves as the intellectual framework for the larger context of the piece.
Desire is visually represented in Tar Baby through its skin, tattooed with gold Adinkra symbols, arranged in a pattern reminiscent of a fetished commodity. The baby, seated on a gold lotus leaf, evokes an Indian idol. It rises out of a mound of coal––a specific reference to the harsh conditions of the boiler rooms in which the Bengali sailors worked, and from which, they escaped.