Untitled assemblage

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    Photo: William Arnett, 1997
Automobile tire, tractor seat, crab shell, and wood post
Description: 

Across from the shed, near the front door to Gilchrist’s office, is an assemblage comprising an automobile tire, a metal tractor seat, and a wooden post. In the tractor seat lays a complete crab shell. The presence of such a shell probably descends from the placing of seashells on graves, another Kongo-related funerary tradition found along the Georgia-South Carolina coast and elsewhere. The shell houses the deceased’s immortal soul, and in an obvious reference to water, represents the ancestors’ watery abode.

Across from the shed, near the front door to Gilchrist’s office, is an assemblage comprising an automobile tire, a metal tractor seat, and a wooden post. In the tractor seat lays a complete crab shell. The presence of such a shell probably descends from the placing of seashells on graves, another Kongo-related funerary tradition found along the Georgia-South Carolina coast and elsewhere. The shell houses the deceased’s immortal soul, and in an obvious reference to water, represents the ancestors’ watery abode. The entire work is littered with trash and grown with vines, encouraging casual observers to overlook it. When pressed, Gilchrist admits that it is part of his "equipment" and that the trash around it "disguises it and protects it."

His sculpture seems easy enough to interpret. It appears to be a commemorative monument to a dead farmer, or perhaps it is an actual grave marker. The most compelling reason for that conclusion is that Gilchrist has brought every component from elsewhere. One of the oldest African American funerary traditions is the adornment of graves with objects belonging to the deceased, especially the last objects used in life. A farmer who died on his tractor may lie beneath this marker. Or a close friend or relative whose power can assist Gilchrist and whose spirit can reside in the crab shell, next to the office.