Sheldon Scott – An Empathetic Note

Pulling from his Gullah/Geechee cultural heritage Scott has created for himself a creole, hybridized artistic practice.

In a recent Facebook post, alongside a photograph of an anonymous rice field in South Carolina, the artist Sheldon Scott wrote:

The old rice fields. Can you see them out there? Working, looking through time at us, then bowing their heads again. Back to work.
In this caption, Scott uses simple words and offers a loving gesture to the imagined figures. He offers a personal point of “ looking through time” to conjure the spirits of an ancestral past. Through narrative, he connects history to the present and invites us, the listeners, to share in that experience. By looking carefully enough, by “working”, we see ourselves in “them out there.” We bow our heads and share in their vulnerability and we are strengthened by their resilience.

Born in Pawley’s Island, SC, Sheldon Scott was immersed in and influenced by the oral traditions and griot (storytelling) cultures of the Gullah/Geechee people. Pulling from the personal, familiar, and ancestral, Scott’s creative career began formally as a storyteller. As a distinct form of artistic expression, storytelling uses spoken words, along with actions related to spoken language including vocalization, and sometimes gesture/physical movement to present a narrative and to encourage the active imagination and interaction from the audience of listeners.

For 10 years Scott developed and crafted a uniquely personal, conversational voice through storytelling. Pulling from his Gullah/Geechee cultural heritage Scott has created for himself a creole, hybridized artistic practice. His recent works combine personal narrative, myth and folklore, with natural and fabricated forms in time-based, durational, performative installations, in sculptures and in photography. This pidgin language that Scott incorporates as an artist and storyteller, pulls from a variety of sources, allows him to creatively and subtly explore highly charged topics. Through his visual works, Scott directly addresses issues related to the intersections of economics, sexuality, and race, while challenging ideals of exceptionality in the black male form and function.

SweetBoy_Sheldon_Scott_web

Sweet Boy, 2013, photography c-print on archival paper, 39 x 27 inches, ed: 20.
UptoHere_web

Up to Here, 2013, photography c-print on archival paper, 39 x 27 inches, ed: 20.
The staged photographic works Up to Here and Sweet Boy place the male form front and center. Scott himself stares out directly to the viewer in these works. Quickly dispensing with and breaking down the ‘fourth wall,’ Scott offers himself and his narrative without words. The stories of these works begin without clear beginnings. As photographs they exist without time. We have foregone the traditional dramatic structure and enter the narrative “in medias res” without knowing how this character came to be. We are confronted with the highly charged symbols of dirt/soil and sugar and the black male form. Through our empathy to this character, we are made keenly aware of own body, our own isolation. We connect to Scott, through our own vulnerability, and are reminded of our mutuality and shared humanness that resonates beyond the highly-charged references to race and sexuality.

EenyMeenyMineyMo_2014_Neon_Brazil_Nuts

Eeny Meeny Miney Mo, 2014, neon, Brazil Nuts, dimensions variable.
In Eeny Meeny Miney Mo, Scott uses neon light to spell out the nonsensical lyrics of a children’s song, imbued with a racist undertone, alongside hundreds of pounds of Brazil nuts. Like the lyrics, Brazil nuts have historically been referred to by a pejorative slang term referring to the black body. We are drawn to the work by its light and asked to consider the notions of fragility and durability. Scott encourages us to participate in the work and encourage certain tensions and questions of the historical and contemporary conditions of racism to surface. We confront the question: “When did we learn to fear the black body?” Even though it may be a ‘hard nut to the question affords us the opportunity to consider that fear as being as nonsensical as the song lyrics themselves.

Maya Angelou had stated: “There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.” We use stories to share our histories, and to pass knowledge on from generation to generation.
Through his carefully crafted narratives, Scott provides an empathetic note which resonates quietly but deeply, moving us towards more meaningful, lingering connection to characters previously unknown to us. We do see them out there, and that unravels our understanding, and throws our abductive reasoning out of alignment. Much as he is able to transform and humanize a simple image of a rice field with a caption, Scott is able to tap into our deeper imagination and understanding. As a storyteller and as an artist, Scott undeniably invokes deep emotions of vulnerability and empathy, coupled with strength, resilience and durability.

Jeremy Flick

Author: Jeremy Flick

Jeremy Flick is a Washington, DC based Artist, Arts Administrator, and Educator. He received his BFA from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH) and his MFA from the University of Maryland (College Park, MD). In addition to being included in numerous private and academic collections, he has exhibited extensively with recent exhibitions at Gallery nine5 (New York City), Heiner Contemporary Art (Washington, DC), Arlington Arts Center (Arlington, VA), (e)merge art fair (Washington, DC), Conner Contemporary Art (Washington, DC), and the Runnels Art Gallery (Portales, NM) among others. Additionally, he serves as Membership Director of Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, DC and as Adjunct Professor at in the Visual Arts Department at Montgomery College, Takoma Park, MD.

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