The Talking Stick Project: The Fibrous Ties That Bind

Commissioned Residency and Public Artwork Installation at Salisbury University, 2018

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In 2018, I was commissioned by Salisbury University for a weeklong residency, 1101 Camden Avenue Salisbury, MD 21801. The commission was funded by Salisbury University, Fulton School of Liberal Arts Dean’s Office in collaboration with the Gurrieri Student Union, which has established “SU is US”, an initiative promoting diversity and inclusion on campus.  As part of the residency, I conducted a Talking Stick workshop, which included an artist talk, the workshop itself, and the optional creation of a permanent or temporary public artwork. 

My interest in talking about the trials, misfortune, as well as the definitive importance of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks and her immortal HeLa cells has led me to search for ways to artistically articulate her story.  Lacks, an African American born in 1920, perished of cervical cancer in 1951.  Cancer cells removed from her body, without her knowledge and consent, were used to create the invaluable HeLa cell line which is used extensively in medical resource since her death.  This research led to the creation of the Talking Stick workshop and installation. Talking Sticks have been used by indigenous cultures throughout history to designate the authority to speak within group, to promote democracy, and encourage dialogue, while providing space for personal reflection.

On Thursday, April 12, 2018 at which 72 Salisbury students, faculty, staff, and community members created their own talking sticks. These talking sticks were then used to construct the public art installation.  A total of 190 talking sticks were arranged and suspended from the ceiling by a wire hanging system in the atrium of the Gurrieri Student Union. The installation was featured in the Student Union headquarters for a year.

The Talking Stick Project is a site-specific endeavor. The site, reasoning for the workshop, number of participants, amount of talking sticks created, and location of installation unfolds differently. Therefore, so does the formulation of the Talking Stick Installations. 

For additional information regarding commissions:  amberroblesgordon@gmail.com.

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