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    Photo: William Arnett, 1999
Description: 

Arnold makes his mysterious piles by placing an "Arkansas" brick on top of a base of "Virginia" materials, running the stack through with a ceremonious metal pipe projecting vertically towards the sky, then coating everything but the pipe in cement, and painting the result with a red field above a white one.

Arnold makes his mysterious piles by placing an "Arkansas" brick on top of a base of "Virginia" materials, running the stack through with a ceremonious metal pipe projecting vertically towards the sky, then coating everything but the pipe in cement, and painting the result with a red field above a white one. The embedded pipe is a relatively common formation on African American graves. Anthropologists theorize that the pipe, also used in Kongo death-rite mythology, symbolizes the linkage between the site of the deceased's remains, in the soil, and the heavens. They are spiritual cannons of a sort, blasting energies back and forth between realms and recharging the spiritual accounts of the relatives of the deceased. Of course, Arnold's yard is not a cemetery, and there is nothing in his countenance or descriptions that hints at any spiritually prophylactic uses for it. However, like a grave, his mounds preserve a tie; here that tie binds his younger and his adult worlds, but the goal remains substantially unchanged from a traditional African American grave's: to strengthen the will and good fortunes of the maker. Like a truly postmodern conjure doctor, he is both client and ritual specialist, with "medicines" that are as mnemonic and historical as they are metaphysical.