Mínkísí’s Crossing: A Middle Passage Rememory Tale | Performance | Aluna Theatre | 2015

Photographed by Alvis Choi, Vero Diaz and Anique Jordan

“In this work, McNeilly creates a series of actions of encounter with Middle Passage memory, the colonial archive and the question of reparation of social injury. Working in silence, drawing on hybrid iconographies from Yorubá, Vodou, Underground Railroad, Jonkonnu and ship’s inventories, she creates a meditation on loss and disorientation, assembling and destroying, creation and endurance.”

– Honor Ford-Smith

In this solo interdisciplinary work, echoing Toni Morrison’s rememory, I move from Saidiya Hartman’s Afro-pessimist trope that, in the contemporary moment, we live in the afterlife of slavery. Through this lens, this work proposes that to mourn and memorialize the African holocaust of the Middle Passage is to release ourselves from what I have come to identify as two emblems of the phenomenology of Black diasporic life ­– bewilderment and melancholy. 

This performance installation dwells in the liminal space of the crossing, where I investigate the Black female subject as the site of encounter with Middle Passage memory. I summon the viewer to a path of bones on the ocean floor, to a surreal subaquatic burial ground, to contemplate indecipherability and fragmentation.

Digital projections of underwater footage, overlayed with images of the Black female subject performing acts of memorialization, serve to exalt her as the carrier of a repertoire of encoded knowledge brought across the Atlantic. As the performer, making the crossing, contesting the archive, reaching for the Orisá, building the burial ground, and inscribing my own body with glyphs of hybrid iconographies, I initiate a meditation on sorrow and reclamation.

I employ clown, movement, mask and voice, found object installation, encaustic mixed media, audio and digital projections as my creative vocabularies. The characters I embody include Mínkísí, the Middle Passage Sojourner; Yemayá, the Ocean Orisá; Esú, the Trickster at the Crossroads; Grandma, the Keeper of the Bones; Dr. Eleanor Sinclair, the Colonial Mimic; and Ghédé, the Guardian of the Burial Ground. Bringing the European red nose into a Black Atlantic narrative of rupture and mourning complicates the reading of the Clown, and speaks to the experience of bewilderment living in the African diaspora.

Click on image for gallery view