Two dark hands emerge, like a spectral presence, from a worn and rusted ground. On close inspection, the hands appear to be carding cotton, brushing the raw o¬r washed fibers to prepare them for spinning. The unformed raw cotton contrasts with the delicate finish of the ruffled cuffs, a poignant reminder of how the harsh conditions of enslaved labor were integral to, yet often rendered invisible in, the finished textiles of a global trade. ¬¬In the intricate detailing of these hands, the hand of the artist is also brought to bear, suggesting Deborah Dancy’s artistic commitment to articulating the presence of the past.
(Note: Dancy's name was Deborah Muirhead at the time this work was acquired by the Mead.)
Deborah Muirhead's poetic abstractions convey a haunting, mysterious presence. Using a restrained palette of white, gray, ochre, and black, she produces profound work that has a spectral quality underscoring its narrative nature. In 1991, an African burial ground dating from the late seventeenth century was discovered in lower Manhattan. Some 400 graves were unearthed and of these over half contained the remains of children. This discovery has propelled Muirhead's aesthetic journey ever since.
In Untitled, the artist lists the names of some of the deceased in a spidery, scrawling cursive. Scattered randomly across the sheet are magnified thumbprints, presumably from the names on the list. What makes this composition particularly poignant is the fact that several of the women were buried with their children.
Nameless is a fusion of gesture and minimal imagery, fragmented and evocative. The gnarled hands in the center of the composition work together with the bones and scars that seem to be burned into the paper. There is much to ponder about in this work and the artist allows us to fill in the blanks.