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.debris. Africa Americas Maine Migrations Mobilities Rocky Mountain West

Neo Rio 2020: HOME

The way the box arrived to us here in Maine was circuitous. It was made in Maine, shipped west, then shipped back to Maine in a mobilities intense transaction. It is made primarily of pine, whose cone is the state flower of Maine. We are living in Mulatamicuwon or ‘the place where water flows and sticks to the sand’ now known as Blue Hill Falls. We have only been here for a few years, so have not grown deep enough roots to consider it ‘home’, but it is certainly a lovely place to be during a pandemic. Our current residence is in the homeland of the Penobscot, who spent summers on the peninsula. Part of the Wabanaki family of tribes in what is known as Dawnland, Penobscot were the most decimated communities of the area as European settlers reaped the rich resources of this land. Our house is located in close proximity to the first settler landing spot here in Blue Hill, constructed by a ship builder in 1835. We frequently think of the settler relationships with Penobscot. European colonists ended up severing Maine’s landscape of the great White Pine. They used the straight but flexible trunks for ship masts. The lumber first built the ships then was carried off to build plantations through the Caribbean, laying in place colonial structures of systemized racism that persist today. Africans were severed from their homes to serve in Caribbean plantations constructed from material that was severed from the landscape in Maine. Penobscot people, so closely interwoven with the land, suffered tremendous loss due to the severance physically from the landscape as the landscape was stripped of its’ forests.

We burned the box, then placed a nest inside. While the bird was resourceful with the available materials, it made us sad to think of the synthetic plastic that was woven into this home for birds and reminds us that modern human construction of homes often consists of chemically laden, synthetic material. Within the nest are a pair of pine eggs, painted by Thatcher Gray, along with a marble egg. It reminded us of brood parasites; birds who lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, then fly away so that their young sap the resources from the unwillingly adopted parents. We photographed it in a Hawthorn tree, which was the other species decimated from this landscape. The trees were harvested for their long thorns, which were used as nails in ship construction. These ‘nails’ grew on trees resistant to rot, and would hold up in the salt heavy air better than the iron nails which would succumb to rust. While we were burning the box, Carol Dana, who was visiting from Indian Island, made the comment that the burning reminded her of the mega-fires out west. The fires that sent out a smoky haze that we could see even here in Maine. Her comment tossed me back to the west, the area I do consider HOME.

Neo Rio is hosted by LEAP
Land, Experience & Art of Place
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Categories
Africa

The Cradle Project

The Cradle Project announcement
Cradle sculpture for Africa by Lee Lee

While pregnant with Thatcher Gray, I created a sculpture for The Cradle Project initiated by Naomi Natale of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Raising awareness of the conditions faced by children in sub-Saharan Africa, it was a poignant experience creating this while carrying my own child to fruition.

Categories
Africa

Santaria

Cuba

Santaria priest dog oil painting by Lee Lee
Priest’s dog | Cuba | oil on canvas | 5.2006

During a visit to Cuba in the winter of 2000, we had the opportunity to partake in a blessing performed by a Santaria Priest, just outside of Havana. We witnessed the sacrifice of a pure white chicken, the blood of which added to the layers caked upon his shrines, which added a deeply visceral quality to the forms sculpted by use over many years. The room was dark, lit only by a couple of small windows and candles that were nestled into the organic forms of the shrines. The practice largely grew from African traditions brought to the island during the forced migration of slaves. The materials that were used could be seen as common, yet they were imbued with significant symbolism which allowed them to be used as tools for prayer during these dynamic rituals. Chains represented enslavement and rusted railroad spikes carried the sleek energy of the rail as a passageway or path down which we may release our energy in the world. Tree branches were incorporated as representations of the transfer of energy between earth and sky. Home made dolls incorporated a human element into the mix. Eggs were incorporated within the act of the ritual as a powerful symbol of regeneration. Feathers used as symbols for freedom. It took many years for the experience to settle. Ultimately I created a series of mixed media works on paper integrating stone lithography, collage, rust stains and drawing with oil pastel, spraypaint, chalk and pencils. The largely abstract works are intended to capture the feeling of the space, and the shifting, almost swirling energy produced by the act of the ritual, which culminated in the representations of the shrines as fragmented. It’s as if the energy imbued in the symbols that made up the shrine were breaking apart to lend their energy to the acts performed within this space.

Santaria Shrine - mixed medial work on paper by Lee Lee
Santaria Shrine - mixed medial work on paper by Lee Lee
Santaria Shrine - mixed medial work on paper by Lee Lee
Santaria Shrine - mixed medial work on paper by Lee Lee
Santaria Shrine - mixed medial work on paper by Lee Lee

Categories
Africa

Masai

Painting of Kenyan students by Lee Lee
After School in Kenya | oil on foamcore with plastic .debris. inlay
A grandmother floats through a crowd of school children towards a pair of traditionally clad young hunters.

As a gift upon graduating high school, I was sent to Kenya on an Ouward Bound course to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. An extraordinary climb to the top of Africa, we had the opportunity to ascend on the Tanzanian side of the mountain, where we had the landscape to ourselves. Part of the journey included a visit to a Masai village, where I found and painted this pair of traditionally dressed tribal members in the company of Kenyan students in modern dress. Appearing ghost-like, as if fading into the background, the works question the stability of the nomadic cultures that call the Savannah home.

Oil painting of a Masai mother and child by Lee Lee
Oil painting of Masai Warrior in Kenya by Lee Lee
Categories
Africa

Okavango Delta

Botswana

Employed by Botswana’s government to help assess diamond count in an attempt to quell the illicit funding of war in the greater region, our friend Christopher Campbell had the opportunity to spend some years in Botswana with his family. We visited in the summer after my high school graduation and took a road trip around the central region of southern Africa. A highlight was flying into the Okavango Delta to float around by dugout canoe as we sought out the copious amounts of wildlife. This is a series of portraits of our worthy guides, Ra Simone, Ra B and ‘Shorty’, who kept us from being eaten by lions or crocodiles. At one point during the week, we came across a fresh lion kill. Shorty helped himself to a hearty piece of meat while we edged away, nervous that the lion may be very close by since our guides seemed to think we had frightened him off (!!) For the next few days, the meat simmered over the campfire, feeding the guides with a hearty stew to accompany their feff. These works are oil on paper, 4″x5″ each

Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee
Painting of the Okavango Delta by Lee Lee