Secure the Bag, Mint the Soaps and Throw the Bones
Secure the Bag, Mint the Soaps and Throw the Bones is a site of exchange that aims to recontextualize the intricate histories of the brown paper bag and Hispano cuaba soap while inviting the audience to play a game of dominoes. This is based on the artist’s ongoing examination of these items found in private and domestic settings. Nonetheless, their combined racialized, colonial and social complexity reverberates in the customs and dynamics of collective space within a black diasporic subjectivity and imagination.
For example, the humble brown paper bag is a ubiquitous utilitarian receptacle for transporting items and is often disposed of as urban detritus. However, the “Brown Paper Bag Test” harkens to a colorist discriminatory history in which those with a skin color lighter than a brown paper bag were allowed access to certain spaces or privileges. Then, in the 1970s, the bag reappears emblazoned with The Black Panther Party logo as a visible symbol of the People’s Free Food Program to highlight the inaction of the US government to combat hunger.
As a Dominicanx artist living in the Bronx, Alcántara is also interested in the objects that connect them to an intimate and communal relationship with the Island and its diaspora. Hispano cuaba soap isa standard item in Caribbean households and the diaspora for cleaning clothes and the body. Additionally, it holds very particular connotations in relation to bodies capable of becoming pregnant as an item for hygiene and as a way to test for pregnancy (despite its harmful effects on vaginas’ pH levels, according to medical studies). Meanwhile, the Hispano brand and its marketing reinforce a white-Eurocentric ethnicity that washes over the violent history of conquest and erasure in the Americas. How might these loaded objects that conjure both a comforting familiarity and oppressive histories be reinterpreted into new social formations?
The Session gallery will be the site of an evolving installation of brown paper bags transformed through embroidering, collaging, dyeing and accumulated crystallizations of sugar, salt, adobo, soil, coffee grinds, and coconut oil into jewelry-like pendants which function as a symbolic shrine in the gallery. The Hispano cuaba soaps will be altered to incorporate natural ingredients and the debossed lettering on the soap will be changed from Hispano to Black, Negre, and Afro to subvert the assumed whiteness of the Hispanic ethnicity.
The artist will host events where the public can ponder these material associations over a game of dominoes sculpted from Hispano cuaba soap. Through guided conversation over this quintessential diasporic pastime, can we collectively navigate and break from the impositions of anti-Blackness to sustain mutual aid efforts and fight other forms of systemic oppression?
On view: November 11, 2023–January 25, 2024
Marcela Torres and Assembly
September 14–November 10, 2023
KING COBRA and Hue Hallums