INTERSECTIONALITY IN THE STUDIO: Kiyan Williams
Fig. 1: Kiyan Williams, Meditation on the Making of America, 2019, soil from plantat
In my recent work I collect dirt, sediment, and debris from sites of loss in the African diaspora: the ruins of slave castles and plantations in the American South, low-income residential buildings demolished by corporate developers, street corners where Black trans women were murdered. Through digging up and giving shape to dirt, I bear witness to the historical, ongoing, and quotidian violence that shape Black queer and trans life in America. I shape the residue of Black loss and transform it into objects that contend with collective amnesia and social neglect.
My work draws relationships between the ongoing historical trauma of slavery and the contemporary forms of displacement that impact my life as a Black non-binary transfemme person. I articulate the connections between the displacement I experience as being a descendant of people who were stolen from their homelands and forced to build the U.S. empire, and the displacement I experience as a Black transfemme person from the hood who is marginalized from traditional places of belonging and who is impacted by gentrification. I draw on my experiences at the confluence of my racial, class, and gender identities, and attempt to reconcile the violences that try to dispossess me from my own body, the land I live on, and the land my ancestors labored on.
My work, The Vessel / Womb / Abyss is a meditation on the capacity for subjugated and dominated lifeforms to grow in hostile conditions that were not built for our survival. Evoking the shape of a slave ship and a sarcophagus, the sculpture is made of soil from plantations in the Caribbean and American South. Mushrooms sprouted atop the surface of the soil, small insects made a home in it, and a green leaf blossomed in the center. The particularly species of fungi in the work is cup fungi, which grow in soil that has been displaced from its origins; the soil is nutrient deficient and incapable of growing plants. The fungi decompose any dead and decaying matter in the soil in order to make it nutrient rich and hospitable for other forms of life. The ecological systems of regeneration and transformation are an allegory for the capacity for Blackness and queerness and transness to emerge in conditions that are inhospitable and hostile toward life. They hold the capacity to break down, recycle, remix, and repurpose whatever is present so that life might be sustained and regenerate the soil so that new ecosystems might emerge in the wake of white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal capitalism that has devastated the planet and made it inhospitable for many different forms of life.
Kiyan Williams is a multidisciplinary artist from Newark, NJ. They are an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.