Exhibition amplifies voices, relates history to present

“Re-Cor-Dare: Sauda Mitchell” exhibition now on view at Telfair’s Jepson Center

Sauda Mitchell, "Finding Aid," 2021
Sauda Mitchell, "Finding Aid," 2021
Sauda Mitchell harnesses the power of archival collections in her ambitious solo exhibition, “Re-Cor-Dare,” now on view at the Telfair Museum’s Jepson Center.

For Mitchell, the act of recording and the purpose of preserving archival material is to give back to our hearts and minds across time and space. This sentiment inspired the title of her exhibition. Referencing the Latin roots of the word, “record”: “recordari,” to remember and “cor” or “cord” meaning the heart, “Re-Cor-Dare” takes a multidisciplinary approach to activating the intellectual and emotional information provided by historical and primary source material, specifically information on American Black history and enslaved peoples.

As a printmaker, archivist, and educator, Mitchell has a decades-long engagement with primary-source material, informing her acute understanding of their distinct efficacy in mining the legacy of racial disparity and social injustice deeply embedded in the history of the U.S. Mitchell locates and lays bare linkages between the past and present to highlight the lived experience within the African American diaspora today.

There are five separate bodies of work on display in “Re-Cor-Dare,” all connected by Mitchell’s interest in the Black experience, printmaking, materiality, text and image, as well as a spirit of generosity encouraging viewers to dig deeper and explore information beyond what’s presented at the Jepson. Embedded in most of the work are QR codes that link visitors to digital resources about enslaved narratives, personal histories and ongoing archival projects.

Mitchell’s carefully considered artist books are seductively constructed and provide a structured form of storytelling for the artist to flex her facile skills as a maker combined with her theoretical position and intellectual force. The book format integrates various modes of communication necessary for grappling with complex histories and the layered experiences of subjugation, racial discrimination and violence.

The grounding and loving audio of The Robert Glasper Trio’s version of Herbert J. Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” fills the gallery space. Connecting with the sculptural series “Voyage Windsails No 1-5” is text from a poem Mitchell wrote while an undergraduate at SCAD. Narrating the experience of forced separation of a mother and son during their journey of the Middle Passage, Mitchell conveys the trauma, disconnection and fragmentation forced upon enslaved Africans.

“This exhibition expanded the material Sauda was working with,” said Erin Dunn, associate curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Telfair. “Every material in the exhibition was chosen for a specific purpose: cash crops, indigo dyed fabric … she even incorporated metal referencing the history of metalsmithing in Savannah by enslaved people. Every element links back to history as a way to help understand our present moment.”

As Mitchell explained in her artist talk on April 15th, “This [exhibition] is an opportunity to amplify the voices of people who have dedicated their life to civic engagement and shed light or provide a way for viewers to recognize and learn about those people as a prompt to get a better understanding of what’s happening now.”

That’s the power of history: looking back and returning to the past can provide a path forward. As Mitchell so poignantly reminds us, in some form or another, we all have the agency to participate in making a more just world. The question is: Will you?

Mitchell’s exhibition is part of Telfair Museums’ #Art912 initiative. Formally launched in 2016 to formalize the Telfair’s ongoing commitment to showcasing the work of artists living in close proximity to the museum, #Art912 is an initiative dedicated to raising the visibility and promoting the vitality of artists living and working in Savannah through exhibition opportunities, public programs, and outreach. “Re-Cor-Dare” is also presented as a part of the Telfair’s Legacy of Slavery in Savannah Initiative. For information, visit telfair.org/los.

“Re-Cor-Dare: Sauda Mitchell” is organized by Telfair Museums and will be on view at the Jepson Center through Feb. 27, 2022. For information, visit telfair.org/exhibitions/re-cor-dare-sauda-mitchell.