Maureen Kelleher’s PECKERWOODS ABOUND, is a colorful, bold, glossy, straight ahead view into the world of the employer/employee, master/slave relationship.
Drawing on a story told to her by an African-American woman who worked as a domestic in Louisiana in the 1970’s, Kelleher creates a walking trip that simultaneously takes us back in time via a giant step (to Frederick Douglass’s 1850’s) and a smaller hop back to 1970’s Chalmette, Louisiana. We experience an historical view of power in two eras, the players from the times (black and white), and the ground on which each stood in the particularity of his / her existence.
The piece highlights a kitchen conversation in 1970’s Chalmette Louisiana (St. Bernard Parish, as we heard so much about in post-Hurricane Katrina coverage of the 2005 natural disaster) between an African-American domestic and her white employer. The maid commented on the unclear conditions of her employment. Unhappy with such feelings (and their expression) by her maid, the white employer threatens to “tell [her] husband,” of the maid’s comments, and sprinkles her reaction with an undertone (i.e. unspoken) of guaranteed strong punishment to be meted out to the maid, to boot.
But then the maid has a last say, follow-up comments, shot right back to her employer without hesitation. [Yes, things had changed a little since the slavery days.] Her words indicate resistance, and the individual’s ability to voice an opposing opinion, no matter the reality that such expression might bring on harmful results, pain.
The tone and timbre of this exchange, juxtaposed with Douglass’s account of a slave whipping, is indicative of how things had dramatically changed over the centuries, yet the baseline norm of the more recent chat had, for all intents and purposes, fallen back to the ugly reality of fear. There would be no 1970’s shredding of skin by whipping, yet the 1970’s employer’s outrage implied brutal results, namely the possibility of both physical and financial repercussions for the maid.
Kelleher is a witness, one who must watch, watches, is able to watch, is watching. She is a witness to the rule of Power and its begrudgingly protean character. Speaking truth to power; making art to power. The paradigm shifts.
Follow Maureen on her blog: http://mkbeanart.blogspot.com/