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CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF SALLY HEMINGS

A Celebration of the Life of Sally Hemings was an installation and a series of performances staged in and around the Ruffin Gallery at the University of Virginia. The work was a reflection on the life of the Sally Hemings persona embodied in the last 5 years by the artist. The gallery space included church chairs, a wall-papered, candle-lit, floral-decorated shrine, the video, ‘Quilt’—featuring the archive of the artist’s late second cousin, historian and textile artist Elizabeth Cherry Jones, a research desk, and other props. For the performance ‘Elegy,’ the artist presented a slideshow, written tribute, and vocal performance in honor and illustration of her fraught relationship with the persona of Hemings. For ‘Eulogy,’ the closing performance, the Ghost of Thomas Jefferson haunted the gallery and addressed the audience regarding his troubled relationship with Hemings. Before returning to the world of the dead, The Ghost demanded reparations be made—demanding that the University limit the Ruffin Residency to artists of color, publish the ‘collected writings’ of Sally Hemings, and erect a monument in her honor.