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Issue 152

Letters
by Danielle Hogan, Julia Mallory, and Madeleine Randmaa

Dear C,

Grief is natural, and yet there are communities that experience death-related grief as an exceptional, persistent phenomenon. This is made plain in Nya Lewis’s discussion of an inheritance by Kosisochukwu Nnebe, and in Rana Nazzal Hamadeh’s essay, “The Impulse to Share Evidence: Tensions in Representing the Unity Uprising.” Both writers are examining ideas that I am continuously trying to wrestle with as a Black grieving mother whose son was killed in his 17th year of life. In particular, they examine ideas around: resilience when there hasn’t been a reckoning against the conditions that produced the grieving circumstances in the first place, the demand for evidence, and who gets to grieve.

I have grown wary of calls for “proof,” because as history has demonstrated, there will never be enough evidence to satiate those that view themselves as outside of the threshold of harm. In thinking about the recent attacks on Black and Latine communities in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, I have read calls for families to show the bodies of their dead loved ones as evidence. I resent the idea that reasonable people require this degree of proof, or for others to make a spectacle of their grief in order to recognize the conditions that created it. As Tina Campt stated in her BOMB essay “The Opacity of Grief,” “I need not inhabit their grief to feel across and connect to it.” I also think of Audre Lorde’s use of the phrase “sensation without feeling” in her discussion of the erotic versus pornography, and how that phrase might inform our understanding of what has been referred to as “trauma porn.”

These calls for proof often cite the 1955 murder of Emmitt Till and his mother’s decision to have an open casket as part of her pursuit of justice. In a 1956 interview with Ethel Payne of the Chicago Defender, Mamie Till said that she made the decision after a presence visited her and told her that she should “have courage and faith […] and there will be redemption for the sufferings of your people […] tell the story so the truth will arouse men’s consciences.” Till’s killers would later be acquitted.

These days, I am holding on to how we remain seen to each other in our grief in a world that would just as soon disappear us then turn our absence into a spectacle.

Julia Mallory
Dear C Magazine,

Grief is a universal, nuanced, and distinct subject. I was really taken with the conversation “Relevant Permission” between artists Michèle Pearson Clarke and Lou Sheppard from your last issue. As the artists discussed how they chose to reject pressure to “fit their stories into a metanarrative of marginalization,” I was inspired by what they describe as “doing differently.” Notably, I am drawn to their concept of exploring the “wildness” of subjects, particularly one as abstruse as grief.

I also think of how the exhibition “it comes in waves” (2022), curated by Amy Ash, also considered the “nature of absence,” and even included work by Lou Sheppard. One work from that show, Lan Florence Yee’s A Legacy of Ethnography (2021), was unnerving in a way that I find difficult to describe. It featured a photo of two young children printed onto cotton voile. The children are facing each other while holding hands (perhaps dancing), and the words “what do we lose when we describe ourselves” are hand-embroidered into the image in a statement that feels somehow both airy and intrusive. I think that to wild a subject is perhaps the opposite of describing it. To wild is to explore the indescribable and porous spaces of our lives— those where value actually resides.

In a statement for her show, Ash noted “a conversation about loss or grief is equally a conversation about what we value.” Returning to Clarke and Sheppard’s concept of exploring the “wildness” in their subjects, Ash’s exploration of “value” feels equally wild. The former speaks of holding “grief and joy in the same hand,” which is wild. All of the artists I’ve also mentioned seem to chase a clarity that is both vital, and somehow like clutching smoke. The ability to express that unnamable nugget, which is at the centre of whatever we value, demands an acuity that, as Ash seems to suggest, only ever comes in waves….

Thank you again.

Danielle Hogan
Dear C,

I know grief to be an untouchable crushing absence, and a painfully beautiful, poignant reason to give form. In “Grief Has No Distance,” April Thompson asks if grief has a shape. If it does, can it be shaped by an artist’s hand? Lou Sheppard continues this line of thought in “Relevant Permission” when he asks, “what does it mean to see through grief?” Artists in this issue are preoccupied with grief’s scent, image, and somatic manifestations. Thompson finds understanding in photographs from the past, while Sheppard uses queer frameworks to make sense of loss. They know that though grief can be wielded, ultimately, it cannot be held in the palm of one’s hand.

All the best,

Madeleine Randmaa
UP