Sauda Mitchell: the star is significant


Who better to do this work? Sauda Mitchell (B.A., visual communication, 2013) is an archivist, artist, and educator — indivisible facets of a unified identity, all on display in her solo exhibition Re-Cor-Dare, at the Jepson Center in Savannah.

“Having attended SCAD, having worked at the Georgia Historical Society, having archived and processed the W.W. Law Collection — all those experiences have shaped my view of history,” Mitchell says. “It’s my responsibility to share what I have had the privilege to engage with.”

Re-Cor-Dare — impeccably installed in a light-filled upper wing of the Telfair’s flagship museum — comprises a series of works in an array of tactile media: prints, paintings, artist books, textiles. The exhibition’s title is an etymological extension of the act of recording, incorporating the Latin roots “cor” (heart) and “dare” (to give).

The formal evolution of Re-Cor-Dare dates to 2017 and Mitchell’s SCAD Alumni Atelier residency when, she explains, “I met board members from Friends of the African American Arts, which led to crossing paths with Erin [Dunn, Telfair associate curator], who scheduled a visit to my studio. I showed her my sketches for Voyage, and she asked if I’d be the next #art912 artist” — the Telfair initiative dedicated to exhibiting artists living and working in Savannah.

Displayed in the gallery’s hull-like big room, Voyage Windsails №1–5 are hand-painted acrylic, cotton fabric, and hand-dyed indigo textile pieces depicting a journey in the Atlantic slave trade. The sails — mounted in windows, not on walls — render the gallery pelagic. Iconography reappears. “The star is significant because it references the journey enslaved people made,” Mitchell says. Speakers in a half-baffled corner swell with Robert Glasper’s 2004 rendition of Herbie Hancock’s 1965 composition Maiden Voyage. The immersive presentation suits the work.

Sauda Mitchell (American, b. 1981); Voyage №3, 2020; linoleum on paper; courtesy of the artist.

“Inspiration came from a poem I wrote as a SCAD student, titled Voyage, about the Middle Passage,” Mitchell explains. “The poem had been tucked away for years. Then, when I heard Glasper’s Maiden Voyage, it was as if I was transported into a ship in the Middle Passage, I could hear moans, bees buzzing, water — all elements that were very much part of my poem. I revisited my sketchbook and reread that poem, and it was timed perfectly to the music. From that experience I decide to create a series called Voyage.”

On an adjacent wall, sense memories manifest in a lively collaboration between the artist and her father, wood carver Alfonzo Mitchell.

“As a child, I’d go downtown and smell the tobacco and see it going out of the silos,” says Sauda, a Winston-Salem, NC native. Finding Grandma Judie comprise two pieces whose flue-cured whole tobacco leaves hang from walking sticks carved by the elder Mitchell. Viewers peer through the long leaves to see portraits of ancestors.

“I’d conducted genealogy for other patrons at the Georgia Historical Society, but never provided myself that service,” Mitchell says. “When I started digging, I discovered that my grandmother’s maiden name was Hairston. That’s how I made the connection to the Hairston family, and found the book by Henry Wiencek.” As documented in The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White (St. Martin’s Press, 1999), the Hairstons owned several plantations and thousands of people — including Mitchell’s great-great grandmother. “This is the first time that I am incorporating my own family history and how it unveiled itself into my work.”

Re-Cor-Dare exemplifies Mitchell’s mastery at using archival research to facilitate creation in the resonant present, an ability that makes her invaluable as the much-beloved archives and special collections librarian at SCAD. “It’s an energetic collaboration with SCAD faculty, always,” Mitchell says, of connecting students to proper collection items, and supporting their ideal learning outcomes. “In order to curate and bring together a collection of resources for students to engage with, you have to understand what they’re learning, and what is going to propel them and inspire them.” And who better to do that work?

Portrait of Sauda Mitchell by Labeeb Abdullah (B.F.A., motion media, 2004).

Re-Cor-Dare is on view at the Jepson Center in Savannah through Feb. 27, 2022.

Written by Peter Relic.



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