Tomashi Jackson’s ‘The Land Claim’ Opens At Parrish

“The Land Claim” is a multi-part exhibition of newly created work in painting, sound, photography, and archival materials by artist Tomashi Jackson at The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, on view July 11 through November 7.

“The Land Claim” centers on the experiences — past and present — of communities of color on Long Island’s East End. The exhibition opens up a discourse around collective memory and historical narratives of labor, educational access, transportation, and land rights, bringing to light systemic racial segregation in the area.

Organized by Corinne Erni, Senior Curator of ArtsReach and Special Projects, with Curatorial Fellow Lauren Ruiz, “The Land Claim” unfolds across multiple galleries as well as outdoors. Jackson conducted research for and primarily created this work while in residence (in partnership with the Parrish Art Museum) at The Watermill Center, as an Inga Maren Otto Fellow. A 96-page catalogue, scheduled for fall 2021 publication, accompanies the exhibition. It includes new scholarship by Erni and artist Eric N. Mack, interviews with a cohort of Jackson’s research collaborators, and drawings by Martha Schnee.

Tomashi Jackson (born 1980, Houston, TX) in her studio at The Watermill Center, June 2021. Photo by Jessica Dalene, courtesy of The Watermill Center

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 organizations that support their communities: 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; Shinnecock Indian Nation members Jeremy Dennis, a fine art photographer and 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; and Richard “Juni” Wingfield, a long-time community liaison for the Southampton School District.

Source material, including archival images and potato bags, in Tomashi Jackson’s studio at The Watermill Center. Photo by Jessica Dalene, courtesy The Watermill Center

Throughout the process, Jackson worked with artist and educator Martha Schnee and research scholar K. Anthony Jones to process and 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. This first encounter with the interviewees’ voices provides an immediate sense of place, bringing to focus communities largely omitted from official history.

Works at the Parrish Art Museum. Photo by Jenny Gorman

Indoors, the exhibition begins in the museum’s Norman and Liliane Peck/Peter Jay Sharp Foundation Lobby with Vessels of Light, a photographic composition comprising three enlarged photographs that extends across the 32-foot, south-facing window. The source images, provided by interviewees, depict familial moments within the three communities that Jackson worked with most closely: Shinnecock children dressed in regalia and gathered at Powwow grounds in 1993, female descendants of a Southampton family of Black migrant farm workers, and an immigrant family from El Salvador in a tight embrace. The painting “Three Sister,” 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.

Shinnecock Reservation youth in regalia at the Powwow grounds, 1993. Photo courtesy Jeremy Dennis.

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, 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, hand crafted in Los Angeles, California by Ruben Palencia, are reminiscent of storefront awnings, allow colors and silhouettes to be cast onto the walls. For the painting “Among Fruits,” a 1950s photograph of a worker in a potato field is printed on vinyl. The transparent strips overlay a hand-painted image (based on a photograph) of a current day Shinnecock Nation member holding a large hen-of-the-woods mushroom. These 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.

Some of the source material used in a painting, including photo of Shane Weeks. Photo by Jessica Dalene, courtesy The Watermill Center

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.


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