Sheldon Scott said goodbye to his beloved aunt Tiney back in May. Tiney toiled away as a domestic housekeeper for almost 30 years to provide the backbone for a white family’s leisure activities. Now she is being honored in Scott’s exhibition Altar of Repose: I’m gonna lay down…, a display of both performance and multimedia work that interrogates the politics of Black leisure. It is on display now at the Connersmith Gallery in Washington, D.C. until August 31.
For the exhibition, Scott has altered hammocks – tarring, painting, sequining, and charming them black – that he will lay in for a full work day. In doing so, Scott makes visible the exploitation of Black people’s physical and intellectual labor and frames rest as an act of resistance. By allowing himself to rest, he refuses to engage in a performance of labor like he has been expected to do as a Black artist. All of this work is being enacted to dismantle culturally held beliefs of Black supernatural ability – that Black people are always ‘strong’ and ‘durable’ and can suffer through gruelling, laborious acts, unlike white people.

Scott does not suggest that rest is complete bliss, however. Indeed some of his hammocks have been marred by nails and glass. With these adornments, Scott offers a critique of hyper-capitalism, positing that even acts of leisure will not offer complete and total rest, as they are always laden with extraordinary labor practices. Building on this inability to rest, the exhibition will also feature an installation inspired by Jacob’s Ladder, a Biblical reference to the idea of “a leisurely stroll to heaven for Black folk.”
Altar of Repose: I’m gonna lay down… is now on view at the Connersmith Gallery on 1013 O St NW, 20001 Washington, D.C. until August 31.
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