Taking Root Among the Stars:
2021 at Durham Art Gallery is guided by Octavia E. Butler. An open letter by Executive Director and Curator Jaclyn Quaresma
| Image | Alpha Centauri, ESA/NASA
Getting Through with Durham Art Gallery:
A message from the Board of Directors.
To the Members and the Community,
The pandemic that ripped through the world, Canada, Ontario and settled into our region in ...
Wondering what we have coming up? Keep your eyes on this section for regular updates.
| Image | Alpha Centauri in relation to the Sun | NASA/Goddard/Adler/U
Sower, Talents, Teacher, Trickster, Chaos, Clay. These are the parables that were meant to make up the six-part Earthseed Series authored by Octavia E. Butler. Only the first two parables were completed before Octavia’s untimely death. Durham Art Gallery’s 2021 exhibition year is programmed under the theme of Earthseed and speculates the possibilities of the four unwritten parables.
We are pleased to present Trickster: Refining Right Relationship or, All That You Touch You Change, which features the work of Kaya Joan, Laura Joy Pieters, Shamica Ruddock and Whitney French + Lue Boileau produced during the 2020 digital residency supported by Durham Art Gallery, Crate Studio + Project Space and Whippersnapper Gallery. Trickster: Refining Right Relationship, or All That You Touch You Change, is a meditation on the pandemic through the central theme of Octavia E. Butler’s unwritten book Parable of the Trickster in relation to adrienne maree brown’s notion of living in right relationship, and the Earthseed principle of Change.
The Earthseed series begins with the Parable of the Sower. In it author Octavia E. Butler introduces a future world eerily similar to the one we live in today. A young woman named Lauren Oya Olamina endeavours to solve some of the deepest rooted issues of her (our) time through a set of guiding principles that she calls Earthseed and practices them in a community of seekers called Acorn. The second book, Parable of the Talents, documents the growth of Acorn alongside a powerful political religious movement, Lauren’s upturn in fame and the fulfilment of Earthseed’s primary goal: to take root among the stars.
The series begins with the biblical parables and was meant to morph into Earthseed’s own parables. After completing the first two books of the series, Octavia passed away before she could finish it. She intended the unwritten novels to document an escape from the Earthly authorities in the name of Earthseed, imagining the possibilities of a society untethered to its Terran origins and guided by an anti-oppressive set of founding principles. The series never reached its utopian promise.
Through Octavia’s extensive archive at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in California, scholars and admirers have caught glimpses of the future Earthseed. The next book in the six-part series, Parable of the Trickster, was left in its beginning stages. Octavia’s papers reveal a myriad of tales that explore the potential landing of the Christopher Columbus Starship that carried seeds of Earth, in the form of earthling members of the original Acorn community, to be planted on a mysterious planet in another solar system [ 1 ].
One of the Trickster storylines found in the archives reveals a planet that is sentient, responsive, and maybe, has a spirit of its own. In a defensive effort against the new inhabitants, the planet begins to react to the residents, or perhaps the residents begin to react to the planet. The settlers become blind, in one case their vision becomes inhibited by the planet’s atmosphere and in another version they are still blinded but develop more suitable sensorial responses to what living on the new planet may have required.
These are just two examples of the many instances of planetary trickery that unfold in the unfinished narrative. In this parable, the planet itself takes on the role of the trickster. True to the nature of the literary archetype, the trickster has the potential to reveal deep-seated inequities and problems in the Earthseed colony. Octavia explains,
…of course, the people have brought all their human problems from Earth to complicate the ways in which they deal with the many problems the planets give them [ 2 ].
As a result of the extra-stellar trials,
…(s)ome [inhabitants] are terrified; many are bored; an increasing number teeter on the brink of severe psychological crisis; nearly all are deeply unhappy [ 3 ].
This is the toll of the trickster: before the need for systemic change is exposed, there is suffering. But is that suffering attributed to the trickster’s play? Or, do the trickster’s games reveal the opportunities for...