Honoring the Clean and Pure, at Praxis
When you walk past Praxis Fiber Workshop’s front windows in the Waterloo Arts District, you’ll see bright blue child-size body bags mounted elegantly on the walls. If that’s not enough to pique your curiosity about this community-based studio space and gallery, I don’t know what is. Praxis owes this not-quite-living enticement into their space to their current gallery exhibition, AMALA: She Could Not Stay (In Their Black Bodies) created by African American and Haudenosaunee artist M. Carmen Lane.
AMALA, (a word known most commonly as a little girl’s name that means “clean” and “pure”) feels solemn, and for good reason. Billed as a “site-specific sacred space,” AMALA uses mixed media to display data at the heart of the African American infant mortality crisis in Cuyahoga County. (The exhibit is an outcome of the Cleveland Foundation’s 2018 Creative Fusion “Data” cohort of artist residencies. – Ed.) Lane notes in a written introduction that though the rate of African American infant mortalities in Cuyahoga County has decreased from 2018 to 2019, “black babies are still 3.5 times more likely to die than white babies.” The work is both a visual display of data and a monument to what and who has been lost. It displays Indigenous American cradleboards holding empty child-size FEMA body bags arranged to represent the ten Cuyahoga County zip codes with the highest infant mortality rates. And Praxis is nestled right in the middle of the zip codes in question, making it the perfect place to honor this loss. The cradleboards are framed by pieces of natural brush from the outdoors, and a brightly painted tree branch overhead, deeply connecting this loss of life both to historical losses of land as a result of settler colonialism, the sustaining power of the land, and the need to return to it. Meanwhile, the FEMA body bags in opposition to the natural elements, give the distinct impression that this phenomenon is not a natural one, but a preventable one.
AMALA has Lane’s experience as a birth, postpartum and death doula infused in every mixed media fiber of it. The cradleboard, an Indigenous American technology used to carry babies, was used by many native tribes, and is included in famous depictions of explorer Sacagawea who used it to carry her newborn with her during the Lewis and Clark expeditions. Through the use of the cradleboard, Lane has created a way to honor the fact that every loss of a child is both physically and emotionally carried with us as a community, but also that there is significance to whom is being lost. The final element of this exhibit lies in the center of the space: an altar with a candle and offerings to honor the lost. AMALA is a clean integration of the natural and the man-made while also exploring ancestry, loss, and displacement.
Carmen Lane’s AMALA: She Could Not Stay (In Their Black Bodies) runs through March 25th at Praxis Fiber Workshop.