Phylicia Ghee

INFO

Liminality: A Story of Remembrance

Immersive Multi-Sensory Solo Exhibition


LAST CHANCE to view this work

Extended Gallery Hours: 

Saturday, January 28th 11:00 am – 7:00 pm, 

(Or contact me to set an appt.)


Location: The Nicholson Project

2310 Nicholson Street, Southeast, Washington D.C.




2022 Artist-in-Residence, The Nicholson Project

Exhibition dates: November 6, 2022 – January 28, 2023


"Liminality: A Story of Remembrance is an immersive installation that is an ode to the self taught herbalists, midwives and root women whose stories are shrouded in the mysteries of Phylicia's personal family history and the history of this country. Incorporating sound, texture, and an apothecary cabinet that “feels like walking into the living space of a Grandmother, Great Aunt or family matriarch,” Phylicia has transformed Nicholson’s gallery into a place that feels sacred, where herbs are hanging and herbal remedies are cultivated; where recipes are handwritten on napkins and torn pieces of paper."


~ The Nicholson Project, Press Release


Artist Statement (Excerpt #1)


liminality

[ lim-uh-nal-i-tee ]

Liminality: a term used to describe the psychological or emotional and metaphorical process of transitioning across boundaries and borders. The term “limen” comes from the Latin word for threshold; it is literally the threshold separating one space from another. A place of transience. The quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage. During a rite's liminal stage, participants stand at the threshold between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way. 



My Mother studied medicine when I was in her womb. She was a pharmacist throughout my childhood. I have been painfully aware of the impact Western medicine had on her well-being throughout my life. I watched my Mother seek healing, in ways that were accessible to her. My story is a continuation of her seeking. In seeing the unfolding of her life and the negative impact Western medicine has had; I decided at a young age to go the path of natural medicine, Eastern philosophy, African spirituality, and Indigenous healing traditions. Essentially, my Mother and I, with our shared interests, meet here, back at our beginnings. 


My lineage has revolved around practices of care. My Grandmother is the caregiver of our entire family, her love is our lifeblood. My Grandparents have continued to care for various members of our family, over three generations. Even my Great Grandparents were caregivers. Understanding this dynamic within myself has led me to the creation of this space. 


Artist Statement (Excerpt #2)


Black women are the thread that has woven the tapestry of our collective history. While consistently repairing the frayed fabric and torn edges, Black women remain the most disregarded and least cared for people on the planet. Yet we continue our care. While we have not been the cause of the ruptures that have resulted from systemic violence, white supremacist heteropatriarchy, and structural racism, it is us who have tended to those wounds. We have been the doulas and the midwives of this country. We’ve offered care, even to our oppressors.


In 1921 after Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Act, midwives were banned from hospitals as a result of smear campaigns attempting to discredit their work.


Through Federal gatekeeping, midwifery, as it was traditionally practiced by African-descended Black women, began to diminish. The Federal government, alongside white male obstetricians and gynecologists, labeled these women outdated, barbaric, uncleanly, and uneducated. Government systems that favored the capital produced by obstetrics used the “mammy” archetype to understate, undermine and collapse these women’s wisdom and sheer intuitive skill into primitive perilousness, claiming that they needed the intervention of white male physicians and western medicine. Meanwhile, throughout history, Black women had breastfed, raised, and nurtured much of the white population in this country. It was black women whose bodies were lacerated and violently operated on during unanesthetized nonconsensual gynecologic experiments in the name of obstetrics. It is no coincidence that the Black maternal and infant mortality rates are three to four times higher than white maternal and infant mortality rates in the U.S.


Many of us would not exist were it not for the work of Black women herbalists, root women, and midwives. This work lives in my bones, and inside of many of us who identify as Black and Indigenous women of color. 


Time travel is a significant theme in this work. This space is an opportunity to traverse timelines. This first space serves as the portal and path of entry into the liminal. Liminality being a space betwixt and between; devoid of time as we know it. The second room is an invocation; a safe space that invokes the spirits of these women through the use of textiles, textures, sounds, smells, handwritten text, time-specific furnishings, hanging herbs, and layered cabinets. This is a call to remember and honor. Pieces like the vintage radio and phone reference frequency, wavelength, and communication between thresholds. I’m asking these women to come teach me to live in the frequency of the love they knew so purely and shared so freely. 


In making space for the unseen and the non-physical, I imagine these women in the room; resting, congregating, praying, communing, summoning, studying, and leaning on one another for care and fellowship. Many of the items in this space belonged to my Grandmothers and the Grandmothers of beloved women in my life. Through engaging in the simultaneity of time, a term coined by Vanessa German, we awaken to the timeless and call on memory to become palpable reality. Liminal spaces are at the center of every rite of passage in life; these are not spaces to fear, but to be fully present in, as core aspects of ourselves are transformed. And on the other side of transformation, of birth or death; we remember the women who ushered the way.



Entryway into exhibition space

(Detail)

(Detail)

"I remember you" Vintage Wash Table (Detail)

"I remember you" (Detail)

"Liminality: A Story of Remembrance" Immersive, multi-sensory installation (Room #2 – Detail)

"I remember you" (Vintage Wash Table – Detail)

"I remember you" (Vintage Wash Table – Detail)

"I remember you" – Photos of Black Women Herbalists & Midwives (Detail) Aunt Sally, Gees Bend Alabama (above) & Maude Cullen, Berkeley County South Carolina (below)


"I remember you" Multi-sensory Installation, 2022


Vials of Elderberry ("I remember you" – Detail)

Photos of Black Women Herbalists & Midwives (Detail)

(Detail)

“Mommy, Grandma & Granny”

(Detail)

(Detail)

Portraits of my Great Grandmothers with December1951 Life Magazine Issue; chronicling midwife, Maude Cullen's work in rural South Carolina

Room #1

(Detail)

Photos of Black Women Herbalists & Midwives (Detail)

Vials of Elderberry (Detail)

Vials of Elderberry (Detail)

Vials of Elderberry (Detail)

Pendant handmade by my Mother, Karen Ghee (resin, deconstructed watch, found objects, various metals) – "I remember you" (Detail)

"I remember you" (Detail)

Exhibition view

“Grandma / i am accused of tending to the past” in gold leaf gilded frame with Lucille Clifton Poem “i am accused of tending to the past”

Vials of Elderberry ("I remember you" – Detail)


Enamel Wash Basin with rose water, rose petals and fresh roses ("I remember you" – Detail)

Room #2 – "Liminality: A Story of Remembrance" Multi-sensory immersive Installation (Detail)

Photos of Black Women Herbalists & Midwives (Detail)

Roses ("I remember you" – Detail)

"Liminality: A Story of Remembrance" Immersive, Multi-Sensory Installation, 2022 – Evening view


(Detail)

(Detail)

“Mommy, Grandma & Granny” Hydrosol & Essential Oil Perfumes

(Detail)

(Detail)

Room #2 (Detail)

“I remember you”

"Liminality: A Story of Remembrance" Immersive, multi-sensory installation (Room #2) Photo by Alanna Reeves

Vials of Elderberry ("I remember you" – Detail)

"I remember you" (Detail – Vintage Enamel Pitcher, Jackson Family Heirloom Perfume Bottle, Elderflower, Elderberries, Elderberry Hydrosol, Elder Seed Oil and Vintage Box underneath Wash Table)

"I remember you" – Photos of Black Women Herbalists & Midwives (Detail)

“Liminality: A Story of Remembrance” Installation Detail

Vials of Elderberry ("I remember you" – Detail)


Enamel Wash Basin with rose water, rose petals and fresh roses ("I remember you" – Detail)

"Liminality: A Story of Remembrance" Multi-sensory immersive Installation (Detail)

"I remember you" – Used vials of elderberry syrup (Detail)


“Grandma / i am accused of tending to the past” with poem by Lucille Clifton

(Detail)

"I remember you" (Detail)

Portraits of my Great Grandmothers with December1951 Life Magazine Issue; chronicling midwife, Maude Cullen's work in rural South Carolina

(Detail)


Artwork Descriptions -

Gallery ROOM #1

Charcoal / Brown Room


1) “Grandma / i am accused of tending to the past,” 

Portrait of my Grandmother, June 2020 


Accompanied by the poem "i am accused of tending to the past" by Lucille Clifton 


Archival Pigment on Photo Rag Paper

20" X 24" 

____


2) “I remember you” 

Multi-sensory Installation, 2022


Found and family photographs of Black Women herbalists, root women and midwives; Vintage wash table with enamel basin and pitcher, the Jackson family’s old perfume bottle (courtesy of Shannon Maith), elderberry syrup, elder flower, elderberry hydrosol, elderberry seed oil, plant essences and essential oils, rose water, memory


Hanging herbs and plants:

Roses, eucalyptus, holy basil 


Sound by:

Phylicia Ghee, sound effects created with water and wash basin


Sound Engineer:

Evan Kornblum



Artwork Description: 

Memory has a way of keeping things alive or re-enlivening them. 


At the center of the wash table is a pendant made by my Mother; carefully created using the gears of a deconstructed clock representing each member of our family alongside emblems of faith, perseverance and the circular nature of time. My Mother and I, unknowingly, explore mirrored symbologies. This pendant marks a new agreement she made with herself and is a microcosm of all the themes represented in this exhibition. I’m reminded of a saying she always used when I was a child: “What goes around comes around”. The presence of the pendant is honoring my Mother’s courage, fortitude, intuitive genius and deep abiding love. She is another great love of my life. 


This entry into the exhibition serves as a portal, Elderberry facilitating the opening. As an ancient herb, very significant in Black herbalist traditions, Elder is symbolic for the elders I am honoring in this space. The Elder tree in its fruit and flowers, hold the energy and magic of transitory spaces; that of birth and death, rebirth and renewal, transition and transformation. Elder is both protective and restorative. 


This moment of reflection at the wash table offers an opportunity for pause, ‘rememory’, presence and sensory embodiment. There is an agreement being made here, to lay down whatever you’ve been carrying, in preparation for crossing the threshold into the next moment. 

___


3) Elderberry Syrup 

(Sambucus canadensis)

Ingredients: elderberries, ginger, cinnamon stick, cloves & raw honey


Visitors are advised to:

Take one vial of elderberry syrup, 

remove the cork and drink.

Place used vial in box below wash table 


*Note, elderberry syrup is very high in vitamin C and a powerful preventative and cold remedy. Filled with antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins, elderberry boosts and protects the immune system.


___


4) “Mommy, Grandma & Granny”


Ingredients: 

Mommy – Holy Basil Hydrosol + Essential Oils

Grandma – Rose and Geranium Hydrosol + Essential Oils

Granny – Sweetwater Hydrosol + Essential Oils


Visitors are advised to:

Mist yourself with each fragrance, 

let the scent wash over you.


Special thanks to Krystal C. Mack for conversations that led to the development of this work. 


____

Gallery ROOM #2

Red / Pink / Terracotta Room



“Liminality: A Story of Remembrance”

Immersive, Multi-Sensory Installation, 2022


Found objects and furniture, Grandma Alice’s sofa (Courtesy of Alana Stone-Haughton & StrongHeart Stone), chicken carrier, vintage radio, mixed media, vintage baby scale, medicine bag, hanging herbs + plants (peanuts, sorghum, goldenrod, lamb’s-ear, okra, lavender, fish peppers, scotch bonnet, holy basil, ginger, turmeric and many more); photographs of my Ancestors, found historic images of midwives and herbalists, libation, love, tears, dance, fellowship, reverence


Newspaper excerpts courtesy of:

AFRO American Newspaper Archives


Herbs sourced from:

Stefanie Reiser, Acknowledge Farms

Riversdale House Museum

The Nicholson Project 


Soundscape (listen below): 

Phylicia Ghee, voiceover and sound effects using water, herbs, glass jars etc. 

Jamal R. Moore, Musical Instrumentation of percussion and winds 

Jamaal ‘Black Root’ Collier, Vocals (Humming + Vocal Sound Effects) 


Sound Engineer: 

Evan Kornblum


Voiceover contributions:

Shafia M. Monroe, DEM, CDT, MPH; Renowned Midwife & Doula Trainer

Makeda Rambert, Certified Nurse Midwife

Cecelia Ghee, my Grandmother

Karen Ghee, my Mother


Audio clips include

  • My unborn niece’s heartbeat (Thank you Christian & Alex)
  • Sounds of home; recorded at Nicholson, my Grandparents home and in nature
  • Recordings made during site visit to Concord Historic Site with Shakia Gullette
  • Recordings made during site visit to Riversdale House Museum with Maya Davis

LISTEN BELOW:

"Liminality: A Story of Remembrance" 2-channel Soundscape (excerpt)

This sound plays in Room #2 and is layered with sound in Room #1

(Credits above)


-----

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Cathy Guerra, Yvette Guerra, and Shannon Maith for immense support and contributions toward this exhibition.


I would also like to thank:

Morgan Taylor

Laura Chance-Collier 

Alana Stone-Haughton &

Saiyda StrongHeart Stone

Allison Nance & Alanna Reeves 

Stefanie Reiser, Acknowledge Farm

Maya Davis, Riversdale House Museum

Shakia Gullette, Concord Historic Site

Savannah Wood & Deyane Moses 

Wee Bee Quilters of DC 

Shafia M. Monroe

Karen M. Rose

Makeda Rambert

Carolyn Jackson

Krystal C. Mack

Evan Kornblum

Jamaal Collier

Jamal R. Moore

Peter Lewis 

Cecelia Ghee

Karen Ghee

Edward Ghee Sr.

Christian Willoughby & Alex Rausch

Ruth ‘Rudi’ Wickham & Morgan S. Baker


Photo documentation by Phylicia Ghee, Alanna Reeves & Anne Kim, courtesy of The Nicholson Project. Video documentation by Phylicia Ghee


(video depicts the Nicholson gallery before I installed my exhibition)