‘We search for our mothers in order to find ourselves. The black mother is the instrument and embodiment of history. My mother is “The Object of My Gaze”’ – Marcia Michael
In I Am Now You – Mother, Marcia Michael visualises the act of matrilineage through the body of her mother, Myrtle McKnight.
Michael uses photography and oral history to retrieve lost and reimagined narratives of her matrilineal ancestry, creating an intimate dialogue between mother and daughter in order visualise history from her mother’s memory.
In the artist’s own words: ‘my desire is to recover a visual and aural narrative of my matrilineal history and reunite the present with the past. The body is testament to the refusal to forget. The body, my mother’s body, is all of my histories’.
Adapting call and response as a visual methodology, Michael’s call for historical understanding is met by her mother’s response permitting the search to be mediated through her body. The resulting visual conversation is unsettling in its revelatory rawness, and affirmative in its courageous offering: a ‘dialogue of matrilineage’.
Concerned with ancestral history and re-remembering, many of the photographs’ titles include the Latin Partus sequitur ventrem: ‘that which is brought forth follows the womb’. This historical law, which decreed that the social status of the mother is inherited by the child, shapes the mother for Michael as both maker and marker of history.
In the video Remembering You Remember Me, Myrtle McKnight is presented in five simultaneous frames, each retelling the birth of her child. The layered, poly-vocal narrative of her uncensored maternal voice creates a powerful and disorientating effect, recovering the history of a matrilineal memory.
The exhibition includes a selection of works from Marcia Michael’s multidisciplinary project The Object of My Gaze (2015–17).
Marcia Michael (b. 1973) is a London-based artist. She dedicates her artistic practice to the wide and ever-changing parameters of the black family album, depicting black British life in a highly personal approach. I Am Now You – Mother continues her exploration of matrilineal lineage, a process she began with The Study of Kin in 2009.
Her work has been shown internationally, twice been selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, and recently featured in the journal MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora. She is currently studying for a practice-based PhD in photography at University of Arts London (UAL). Michael was the 2015 Artist in Residence at the Autograph ABP / Light Work residency in Syracuse, NY.
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