Project Room


T. Eliott Mansa:
Room for the living / Room for the dead

Press Release

Locust Projects presents Locust Projects presents Room for the living/ Room for the dead, a new site-specific commissioned project by Miami-based artist T. Eliott Mansa.

The immersive and interactive installation merges the concept of Florida / Family rooms as a home’s casual, social hub for gathering, entertainment and play, with that of less-used living rooms that served as shrines for treasured family photos and heirlooms. Inspired/influenced by the artist’s friend and writer Noelle Barnes’ living room and the artist’s own memories of sunken living rooms of the 1970s, the artist considers the cultural phenomena of the living room as unlived, unoccupied, untouched spaces that children and guests were prohibited from using.

As an alternative, many people used ‘Florida/Family rooms’ to entertain company and watch television. Meanwhile, in the ‘unlived’ living rooms, many elders wrapped the furniture in protective plastic. For Mansa, these living rooms were treated as shrines–a space honoring one’s ancestors and those who have traveled beyond this plane. With this installation, the artist seeks to collapse the dichotomy between the ‘Living Room’ as shrine, and the ‘Florida/Family room’ in a way that creates ‘a room for the living’ as much as ‘a room for the dead’.

Visitors will walk into a recreation of a living room filled with furniture, floor and wall coverings, decor and plants. The walls painted in a Haint blue, reference the color used in the Low Country region of the Deep South. The folklore surrounding this color dates back to West-Central African Bântu-Kôngo belief that the land of the dead is the Ocean, the largest cemetery on Earth. Enslaved Bakongo people incorporated this apotropaic blue-green color into the ceilings of porches of homes in the South, as well as blue bottle trees to protect the dwellers from ‘haints’ or ghosts, who would be attracted to the color of the ocean/the color of the dead and be captured before they ventured inside.

The focal point of the room is a new iron sculpture, modeled after the Dikenga Cosmogram, a symbol and way of life for Bântu-Kôngo people. Also known as Dikenga dia Kongo, this cosmogram speaks to various practices and beliefs that are common throughout African culture and philosophy. It consists of four points symbolizing the four positions of the Sun. In one layer of meaning, position represents a phase of life.

Moving in a counterclockwise motion, The Sun rises in the East, as a birth. The noon day Sun represents an adult who lives an upright life. The Sun setting in the rest represents an elder who travels into the afterlife. The Sun at midnight is the peak of ancestorship. From this position, the spirit moves back towards birth, to begin the cycle/circle again.

The sculpture, shaped as this cosmogram, will contain shelving to hold photos of loved ones, martyrs,and heroes. These photos will be framed in a domestic manner. The sculpture will unite the memorial/altar aspects of the unlived living rooms with those of a room for the living. The room will be a space for people to gather, speak with each other, play cards or domino, etc.. and leave offerings whether through the shared memories or objects they leave behind.

The exhibition is made possible in part with support from Oolite Arts’ Ellies Creator Awards. 

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