Tomashi Jackson: The Land Claim
1. Centered on the historic and contemporary lived experiences of Indigenous, Black, and Latinx families on the East End of Long Island, the exhibition speaks to how issues of housing, transportation, livelihood, migration, and agriculture link these communities
2. Tomashi Jackson is a multidisciplinary artist working across painting, textiles, sculpture, and video to place formal and material investigations in dialogue with recent histories of displacement and disenfranchisement of people of color
Tomashi Jackson is a multidisciplinary artist working across painting, textiles, sculpture, and video to place formal and material investigations in dialogue with recent histories of displacement and disenfranchisement of people of color, resulting in formalist compositions of exuberant color, bold geometries, and intricate layerings of material. She was invited as part of the Parrish Art Museum’s 2021 annual invitation to an artist to consider the entire Museum as a site for works that transcend disciplinary boundaries, encouraging new ways to experience art, architecture, landscape, and community.
Tomashi Jackson: The Land Claim is a multi-part exhibition of newly created work in painting, sound, photography, and archival materials that centers on the experiences—past and present—of communities of color on Long Island’s East End. The artist’s extensive research began in January 2020 when she conducted in-depth interviews with members of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities in the area. A conversation with a Shinnecock Nation member surfaced the history of land appropriation in the Hamptons and led to the exhibition’s title.
Jackson continued her research virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, with live-stream public talks and online interviews. Interviewees included educators, artists, historians, and advocates from local organizations that support their communities. Throughout the process, Jackson worked with artist and educator Martha Schnee and research scholar K. Anthony Jones to analyze the interviews as well as the archival photographs provided by families, historical societies, libraries, and news sources.
The Interviews, a multi-channel sound work sited outdoors at the Museum’s entrance, was created in collaboration with Michael J. Schumacher and composed exclusively of audio from the interviews which echoes the conversations’ recurring motifs—labor, matriarchy, and sacred land. This first encounter with the interviewees’ voices provides an immediate sense of place, bringing to focus communities largely omitted from official history. Concentrating on a single speaker allows the voice of a specific interviewee to emerge as others recede into the sonic background. Yet the other voices always respond and support, integrating the unique but related perspectives of the participants.
Indoors, the exhibition begins in the Museum’s Norman and Liliane Peck/Peter Jay Sharp Foundation Lobby with Vessels of Light, a photographic composition comprised of three enlarged photographs contributed by Tomashi Jackson’s interviewees: an image of Shinnecock children dressed in regalia and gathered at Powwow grounds in 1993, provided by Jeremy Dennis; an image of female descendants of a Southampton family of Black migrant farm workers, provided by Juni Wingfield; and Juntos, New York, USA, 2020, a photograph by Steven Molina Contreras that shares an image of an immigrant family from El Salvador in a tight embrace, depicting familial moments within the three communities that Jackson worked with most closely. The painting Three Sisters, which hangs adjacent to Vessels of Light, incorporates images of intergenerational groups of women and addresses the importance of matriarchy in these communities—a common theme that surfaced during Jackson’s conversations.
The exhibition continues with six large-scale paintings in the Robert Lehman Foundation Gallery. These multi-media, multi-dimensional works are intricately layered and boldly composed; they incorporate abstraction and representation, and are both translucent and opaque. Their surfaces are embedded with locally sourced fabrics, potato bags, ground wampum shells from a Shinnecock wampum carver, and soil from the Parrish Art Museum site, which was once used as potato fields. On these varied grounds, Jackson hand-painted photographic images in halftone lines and overlaid those sections with images printed on transparent vinyl strips. The paintings’ protruding wood frames, handcrafted by Ruben Palencia, are reminiscent of storefront awnings and allow colors and silhouettes to be cast onto the walls. The dynamic compositions reflect how the themes that emerged from Jackson’s research—such as the sacredness of land, generational experiences of labor, and integral role of women in family life—are intricately interwoven and reproduced throughout history.
The Susan M. Weber Gallery is transformed into an interactive Study Room where visitors can gain a deeper understanding of Jackson’s research methodology and the under-told stories of the Hamptons. Visitors are encouraged to add images, anecdotes, and experiences to the narrative by attaching their own family photos and written accounts to the North Wall. The South Wall features notes and enlarged portraits drawn by catalogue contributor Martha Schnee, who composed her images during the interview sessions. The East Wall presents archival photographs provided by families, historical societies, libraries, and news sources—many of which are clearly visible in Jackson’s paintings. Testifying to past and present lived histories, they depict Black and Latinx migrants working on potato farms; Shinnecock Indian Nation members protesting to protect sacred land; remembrances of enslaved people at Sylvester Manor in Shelter Island; and intimate and celebratory family gatherings.
The exhibition serves as the basis for inquiry, discussion, and creative production in the Parrish’s educational programs. Exhibition themes will inform student and family workshops, adult docent tours, and gallery discussions. A 96-page catalogue, scheduled for Fall 2021 publication, accompanies the exhibition. It includes new scholarship by Corinne Erni and artist Eric N. Mack, interviews with a cohort of Jackson’s research collaborators, and drawings by Martha Schnee.
Tomashi Jackson: The Land Claim is organized by Corinne Erni, Senior Curator of ArtsReach and Special Projects, with research assistance by Curatorial Fellow Lauren Ruiz.
The interviewees who generously contributed to the research include
Donnamarie Barnes, Curator and Archivist for Sylvester Manor Educational Farm in Shelter Island
Bonnie Cannon, Executive Director of the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center (BHCCRC)
Steven Molina Contreras, a lens-based artist
Jeremy Dennis, a fine art photographer and Shinnecock Indian Nation member
Kelly Dennis, an attorney specializing in Federal Indian law and Secretary of the Shinnecock Council of Trustees
Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Eastville Community Historical Society
Minerva Perez, Executive Director of OLA (Organización Latino-Americana) of Eastern Long Island
Tela Loretta Troge, an attorney and counselor at law
Richard “Juni” Wingfield, a long-time community liaison for the Southampton School District