March was the month of making something out of nothing. It marked several beginnings for me.
I turned 30 in March. I spent the day moving things out of my studio and broke a mirror in the process. COVID stay at home orders had just begun.
In March I also began what has grown into a full blown love affair with corn. One day as I was asking to treatment I spotted several flecks of a rich rust red dotting the crisp green grass of the park near my house. As I got closer I saw that these rust specks were a mess of partially earn corn cobs strewn across the area. It was unclear where they came from and very clear the the kernels were slowly making their way into the bellies of the local squirrels. I surveyed the cobs for a moment without touching them or taking any pictures. Everyday I stopped to appreciate their rich color and texture. That stayed with me throughout the day to the point that I decided to collect them, the corn cobs. I waited until the squirrels finished their feast, until all the kernels were gone. Then I brought an old burlap coffee sack with me and collected all of the cobs that I could find.
I knew what I wanted to make with them. When I got displaced from my Baltimore I took them with me, the cobs survived the fire and now in January I am finally making the thing that I planned to make. In the time between March, when I first saw the cobs, and now I’ve fanned the flames of my love affair with corn by experimenting with cornhusks.
Some summer day I bought corn at the grocery store to make corn chowder. After I’d shucked it, saved the silks for Arifa’s apothecary, the cobs and husks were left. It seemed a waste so I decided to keep them too. I set them out to dry. The cobs did not give me the rust color as I’d hoped but the husks were something spectacular. Even just hanging they were beautiful. So much body, movement, expressiveness. How had I never noticed it before. They reminded me of raffia and looked like little miniature masquerade dancers. I was intrigued, enchanted even.
The experiments began. Could I dye it in an indigo sugar vat? Yes! They turn back to green rather than blue. Could I wet them? Yes! They are water resistant but can eventually be saturated. Once dry they are in damaged. Can I sculpture it? Yes! I can wet it or heat it, and set it into forms which it will hold once dry. It can be sewn, wrapped, woven, braided, coiled, twined. It’s really just a fantastic material and I can get it for free from the grocery store or farms or waste bins or friend who lovingly support my collecting habits by saving things for me.
This coming year I am excited to continue to deepen my research into corn. In my studio practice I am experimenting with carving cobs and continuing my love affair with the husks. I am partnering with Blue Light Junction to grow heirloom corn in Baltimore. I am excited to see if I can use the heirloom corn to make a resist paste like the wax used for batik or the cassava used for adiré. In the process I look forward to learning the traditional methods for processing corn. My research indicates that this process,”nixtamilization,” makes the nutrients in corn more available to Humans and makes it digestible. More on that later but the tldr version is indigenous people be knowing and colonizers got us fucked up. No surprise there.
March 2020 was the ending of life as we knew it, and the beginning of so many things else. In all honesty I’m very excited about it looking back at it, but while I was there it sucked so hard. Beyond words. Maybe one day I will find a way to talk about the other sides of that experience.