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Historical Research and Creative Expression: Kilala Ichie-Vincent

Melanie Manos and Kilala Ichie-Vincent discuss intersectionality and Kilala's research on African American women's contributions and labor.
<v ->I’d like to introduce Kilala Ichie-Vincent,</v> rising senior at the University of Michigan Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning and a researcher for visualizing women’s work. We’re interested in this project in representing the contributions and labor compensated or uncompensated of all women, all ethnicities, economic strata, et cetera. Kilala is focusing her research right now on African-American women’s labor from the time they were slaves to the 17th century through the 18th and 19th centuries. Hey Kilala, so tell me about some of the new discoveries you’ve been making.
<v ->Yeah, I think it’s really interesting because you know,</v> the sort of 17th and 18th centuries, which you’re talking about, I think it’s an interesting period because slaves were sort of just becoming human beings. So this was like a time when the recognition of black people is just, I wouldn’t even say beginning, but just sort of starting to become like an idea. So initially I was sort of expecting, I didn’t really know what to expect so I think upon doing this research, it was surprising to hear the sort of contributions that black women have been making to the black community.
The first thing that comes to mind is literary groups, black women being the sort of matriarch of the black family. So instead of the power structure being like, sort of relying on the man it’s reliant on the woman and the mothers and the sisters. I go a little bit into depth on why that is. I know that some sort of past research that I’ve done is that a lot of the men were sort of forced as slaves to be with multiple women and to sort of like breed.
And so because of that, a lot of the sort of importance lied with the woman to like raise a family, to raise the children because a man would oftentimes be absent at the request of the slave master. And so, because of that, sort of going back to the contributions of the black woman,
there was a few women who were considered very intelligent in the sense that they were able to sort of write and read in the ways of the enlightenment. And so that impressed a lot of the slave owners. And they sort of took advantage of that by having them write poetry for them, or sort of flex them as if there were you know, that they were like these like great objects. And so sort of going back, I guess, to the communal aspect, they made businesses, whether that was like a laundry business or that was sewing and sort of seamstresses, or they had made dresses for either the black community or for anyone who wished to have a dress.
There are some pretty important figures there. I know there was a Confederate woman who, or the wife of a Confederate leader who came and asked for a dress to be made so that was really sort of confusing and interesting just because the dynamic of that, obviously is sort of impounded. <v ->You also were talking, I think you mentioned about that</v> not only were they doing a lot of reading and writing themselves, but doing a lot of teaching, I believe. <v ->Yeah.</v> So if these black women did get an education, if they did learn how to read and write, they would oftentimes go back to their communities to sort of uplift them.
And so teach them how to read, how to write and sort of give ‘em like a basic education so that they could survive in the world.
<v ->Yeah, I mean, that’s really empowering</v> for then the community. <v ->Yeah, they’re definitely like a force, I think,</v> of uplifting more than anything. <v ->Right, right.</v> And the fact of them starting businesses,
it’s a huge shift from being a slave. <v ->Right, right, yeah.</v> I think economic independency is surprising and this was in the early 1800’s too, so this was like 1820s, 1830s. And it’s impressive because I mean, to go from like having absolutely no economic independency and sort of relying on the structures that were, to going to sort of like, you know, not only providing for the neighborhood, but also like to, you know, be economically independent is something I never really, yeah, that didn’t really cross my mind at all. <v ->Yeah. Me neither.</v> And being a role model like that too. Yeah, this is great. This is great research Kilala.
With your interest and studies in architecture also, we started talking about
incorporating some of this research or carrying it then into a physical space, maybe like near an existing monument or incorporating some of the tools that have been used or materials to do like kind of a happening or performance kind of thing, and some of it is thinking about like, how do we change or rethink the typical hierarchical type of monument that has a very limited kind of definition of heroism. Cause what you’re talking about right now, sounds heroic to me. <v ->Yeah.</v> (laughing) And so how do we convey that.
Part of my thought is along, along the way with this project is what if we do some things at some existing monuments. It doesn’t have to stay there. They could also be like at actual sites of maybe where some of these businesses were, that kind of thing, but any thoughts that you have about, anything that comes to mind, really.
<v ->Yeah, so I guess if I want to think about it</v> as abstractly and as formerly as possible, the first thing that comes to mind is almost like this, this very strong, grounded structure and it could just be a plinth, or a very tall standing, vertical rectangular figure that materialistically would be made out of rock or something very strong and sturdy because that’s sort of how I’ve been interpreting women’s work, especially African-American women’s work and their role in society and in the history. They sort of represented themselves as this like unmoving, strong sort of grounded thing that couldn’t be knocked down with anything. Right?
Yeah. Yeah, whether that’s, I mean, silver, I mean even like using something shiny like gold or, <v ->Yeah, yeah.</v> <v ->Just standing strong and tall, but even like,</v> if you want to take like a different approach of like capturing sensitivities and sort of like,
what it means to sort of be, I guess, oh, I don’t even know if I would even say that, but like, if you would take like a European woman and that you know how they were represented in like this like way that was oh, they had like the sheet and they were very delicate, I think oftentimes black women aren’t portrayed like that. So I would even go as far to say, as to like replace European women in these, intimate sort of instances and put black women there, Yeah, yeah, yeah. <v ->and see what kind of effect that has.</v> <v ->To show like the nuances,</v> all the complexities of a person that, yeah.
Yeah, and going back to the idea of this, like this abstracted formal construction, maybe it’s a combination of both. Maybe we have some of that and then we have some women that are showing a more vulnerable side or a delicate side. <v ->Yeah, I think if there’s something else that sort</v> of comes to mind is if we’re making like a space, right, and we have this sort of like, not infinite space, we have like a large amount of space.
I think it would be really cool if we had, if we combined the ideas, if we had like plinths, like on the outside or these structures and they’re close together, and then the further you get in, the sort of like, they can do either go farther apart and reveal something very sensitive on the inside, or they could come closer together to sort of talk about how strong, how intertwined the community sort of became because of women and their contributions. <v ->Right.</v> Right, right too. I like that too, cause it’s not, sometimes you see, also see images that are hyper-sexualized.
Yeah, and so this is not talking about that, but talking about, like we said, some of the nuances where you might feel like you want to wear something kind of lacy or, (chuckling)
At the same time they might be like holding up an entire family or families kind of thing. It’s really great just kind of starting to visualize that. I so appreciate your input. And I keep thinking about this really solid structure.
What I think with like some of the plinths that I see with
like a single figurative person, I mean a figurative sculpture of a person that’s often military, usually white male, but they tend to be on multiple plinths, you know? So it keeps getting up higher and higher. And what I was envisioning when you were talking was that this is like very grounded. And it’s just the one, it’s not that on top of another, on top of another. It’s the one and it’s that. There’s nothing else. That’s what it is. I also was thinking, I wonder if it could vary in shape. <v ->Yeah.</v> I didn’t think about that, but I think that’d be really cool. Yeah.
<v ->I mean, so then that gets back to the materials.</v> <v ->Yeah, like what would happen if you had,</v> instead of a very clean sort of rectangular structure, you had it coming out very spiky or if you had it very smooth, different things and represent different like ideas and identity. So I think, yeah. I would love to see that happen. <v ->Yeah.</v> Yeah. Okay. (laughing) We’ve got some things to work on. <v ->Yeah, yeah. Very exciting.</v> <v ->Thank you so much for chatting today, Kilala.</v> <v ->Yeah, of course.</v> <v ->We’re gonna keep working.</v> <v ->Yep.</v>

In this video, Melanie Manos and Kilala Ichie-Vincent discuss intersectionality and Kilala’s research on African American women’s contributions and labor.

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Visualizing Women's Work: Using Art Media for Social Justice

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