yesterday, today

Where do you feel welcome? When you enter a space, what markers indicate that this space is for you? And inversely — what markers indicate that it is not?

Yesterday, Today was a public installation intended to explore, question and respond to the north and south’s historical relationships to the slave trade and the pervasive examples in which binary ideals of place proceed to exist within the contemporary landscape of Rhode Island.

The project began in response to a book of bound pamphlets found within the PPL Special Collections featuring publications produced during the Civil War that were distributed by both abolitionist and pro-slavery groups within the Union States.

In a similar format as the bound pamphlets, this project represents this two-sided argument in the format of ten large-scale nylon flags that will be displayed in a processional style within the Chase Center Staircase that connect Benefit Street to North Main — a throughway to the fraught locale of Market Square.

The materiality references abolitionist broadside that were printed on silk. As a means of preservation,  printers would decide to produce a small run of “important” messages on fabrics such as silks, nylons, and wools to ensure that these messages be saved for future audiences. Similarly, these flags reproduce quotes from the bound pamphlets in conjunction with a quote by a contemporary writer or historian. Each flag is presented as a conversation between the historical and the contemporary, it is intended that these pieces can unveil Northern sentiments about the slave trade and, by effect, the impacts of these ideas over time. This framing also reflects on the ways in which the post-racial myth has abided in the creation of both northern elitism and arrogance when discussing matters of race.

Additionally, there is  a publication of pamphlets featuring text about the project. The overall scale, format and aesthetic is intended to attract the viewer — initially drawing audiences in then challenging them to reckon with the content itself.

Documentation photography  by Dougal Henken and Bethany Johns.