40-acre Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, determined
visitors can make their way across a field, some distance from the other
exhibits, to a small cabin with a tiny but inviting front porch and one
The installation, constructed in the manner of a 19th century
Southern slave cabin, holds an amazing assortment of objects collected
by its fictional inhabitant, Eliza. Copies of the Emancipation
Proclamation paper the ceiling, framed family photographs hang on one
wall, and turtle shells, bird’s nests and other natural objects are
displayed in bell jars on shelves.
The creator of the imaginative “Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of
Curiosities,” Chicago artist and professor Fo Wilson, visited the
University of Delaware recently to talk about that piece and her other
work, to deliver a lecture on racial issues and representations of
blackness and to lead a workshop in material culture.
Her description of the “Eliza” installation was part of the 2017 Paul R. Jones Lecture that Wilson gave on March 15.
She began her talk, titled “The Liminality of Race and
Representations of Blackness,” by defining liminality as the
transitional stage of a process or the position at, or on both sides of,
a boundary or threshold.
Today, “I think the whole country is in a liminal state … not only on
the threshold of change” but having actually crossed a boundary and
becoming something different, Wilson said.
But, she said, “Black and brown bodies have been in a perpetual state
of liminalness” since they were first brought to America as enslaved
As a result, African Americans have developed what Wilson called
“black technologies,” or ways of expressing both their resistance and
their humanity. She cited the experience of “double consciousness,”
first described by W.E.B. Du Bois as the conflict between his African
American identity and the way in which he was viewed by a racist
society, and the call-and-response tradition in African American culture
as a form of communal engagement and acknowledgement of others.
Two days before delivering the lecture, Wilson led a
multidisciplinary workshop for UD faculty, students and staff focused on
art and material culture. Her visit to campus encompassed roles as the
2017 Paul Jones lecturer and also as the second distinguished visiting
scholar in the University’s African American Public History and Material
The workshop was held in Mechanical Hall Gallery, which houses the
Paul R. Jones Collection of African American Art and, through May 12,
the exhibition “So What Have We Learned: Black Visual Cultures @ UD.”
Julie McGee, associate professor of Black American studies and of art
history and associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences’
Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center (IHRC), introduced Wilson
to the workshop participants, saying, “She is going to lead us on a
journey related to objects.”