An Entry Point Between Spaces: Concerning Permission
by dana washington-queen

An engagement with archives, in all of its meanings, provides a space to explore, organize and examine passages of time in the everywhere of our imaginations. In other ways, engagement is a birthright. An enactment both ritual and expressive, binding us like adhesive to origins and identities, ancestors and histories. Quite often, I’m caught between sentiment and methodology since engaging my maternal lineage means a boundedness to symbolic and material brokenness—when elders transition, contents fade, and strands of the family tapestry unravel with every loss.

With mourning and memory, building upon this legacy is ceremony. Building as an act of remembrance for my grandparents who ought to be remembered, whose legacy deserves to endure. The process has been untraditional in conventionalist forms of what a studio and archival practice should be. I am led by ancestral communication which prioritizes dreaming as planning and intuitive knowing as method. In thinking about process in this way, archival engagement requests cognizance of spirit bodies, communing with the dead, and preserving the continuities between the living and spiritual worlds.

I hope you’ll go to those memories when you feel like there’s nothing left,
I need you to remember me cause, easily, I forget.

Alfa Mist, Emmavie “Easily, I Forget”

In 2016, I began to notice the numbers: 1016. I would catch it on clock faces, computer screens, car speedometers, everywhere. I had my inklings but didn’t dare assume. In the same year, my grandfather’s health took a turn. As he confronted his mortality, he returned to memory, pulling them out of the recesses of his mind and trailing away with words. One of those memories confirmed my inkling. Through shortened breaths, I heard him tell my mother, “October 16th was the last time me and your mother had supper together.” I teetered in my seat as I listened. Against her will, my grandmother was taken to the hospital due to complications with breast cancer. On November 4, 1979, she left her body. I promised to never imagine the days between October 16th and November 4th, but I’ve replayed my grandfather’s memory like it was my own. I dreamed about what they ate, how the dining room was lit, if she was quiet when the ambulance doors closed between them.

Thirty years later, Elvira “Bebe” Queen summoned me to attend to the Queen family legacy, to make connections to the breaks in her story. I encounter her through 1016 and scanned photographs from an old photo album. What does it mean to build upon a legacy through ancestral communication? How can what is imperceptible be the contents of materiality (archive)? Of the many spaces to find myself between, a reckoning with positionality emerges 1) with orientation (inhabiting a non-place where clarity is not fully realized) and 2) with the possibility of permission (acting upon the circumstance). Even with my grandmother’s blessing, how could I tell the story of a woman I never met? Where would I begin?

Desktop Collage, 2020

The loss of my grandfather proved to be devastating for my family, especially for my aunts and uncles. With both my maternal grandparents physically gone, my aunts and uncles are now the primary source of historical information; however, I remain hesitant to ask the harder questions for fear of reproducing trauma. Despite my passivity, Bebe is persistent in her contact. Once, through a medium, she inquired about a white painted box with things that she left behind. Conflicted, I asked my mother and she vaguely remembered. My eldest aunt knew of the box but thought that it had been given away after Bebe’s passing. I still don’t know where the box is. My mother seemed responsive to the specificity of my inquiries, so I continued asking questions.

In a recorded conversation, I asked my mother if she remembered the sound of her mother’s voice, she could not. I asked my mother to reflect on moments when her mother was happiest, she could. “I know that she was most happy being with granddaddy. That’s the time that I saw her smile, is when she was with granddaddy. When they were doing something, you know, when they were together, because I truly believe that they were like…so in love. I know that they were in love. And so, that was the time that I saw her happy, is when it was him and her.” I asked about the moments when her mother was sad: 

Audio Recording.
Interview with Anita Queen, 2018

The more I received, the more I challenged my impulses as an artist. I latched onto my mother’s memory, maybe because of empathy or the realization that I was grieving my grandmother for the first time. I enveloped myself in the record and meditated on Bebe’s emotional state. The living room was a container of memory and I wanted to be there. I wanted to feel my grandmother like the same spiritual energy that certain songs make manifest.

The Caravans “Walk Around Heaven All Day”

As a filmmaker, I wanted to recreate that moment. I theorized and thought about metafiction as a form to engage my grandmother in the living room. I visualized her placing the needle on the record. I watched her weep in the dark. I crept from the corner and watched myself reach out to her. Because of metafiction, I could acknowledge my imaginings weren’t real, but I envisioned it. I constructed all of these poetic, visual sequences about someone else’s memory, and in reality, Bebe didn’t give me consent to this intimacy. She would not have given me consent because her own children could not bear witness to her vulnerability.

I wonder, as architects of archives, how are we thinking about the public and private? How are we stewarding with care as we author and build upon other lives? With interrogation, I’ve become more mindful about withholding and refraining from over-aestheticizing legacy building. In fact, the process has become the work itself because sometimes there are no solutions to our reckoning. Despite my hyperawareness, I hold close to a message my grandmother left me, “There will always be a reason not to do it, so you should go for it. But also remember why you are doing it.”

In remembrance of my grandparents: The Queens.

Circular Metafictions: what remains unbound is gathered,
“Filmmaking as Ceremony,” 2020