My Favorite Things: Chris Jordan on Charlotte Turner, “Needlework Sampler”


My name’s Chris Jordan. I’m a public artist and painter from Tacoma, Washington. So this “Needlework Sampler” is the kind of thing that you might just, like, walk past. You know, it appears so innocent and almost like nonchalant at the surface. I was like “What is that?” I think of, you know, paintings and sculptures as objects that can contain questions and transmit those questions from our time into the future. The questions that this object elicits are at the core of its power. And this object created by a young girl, who was renamed Charlotte Turner, upon further research you find that Charlotte Turner was on a ship of enslaved Africans that was intercepted, because the trade of enslaved people, you know, was no longer legal. And so this ship was intercepted, and Charlotte ended up– though she was from the Nigeria region– she ended up in Sierra Leone in some kind of boarding school type situation and this is a piece of work that she created when she was 10 years old just to indicate that she had been sufficiently educated according to her teachers, school system, so on and so forth. So the object creates a kind of dissonance because you have this very like Judeo-Christian circumstance being imposed on this young African child and you wonder, like, you know, for her to be called a liberated African, what does that even mean when you’re subjected to that kind of violence? Looking at this object, and feeling all of, how absurd it is to suppose this as evidence of someone being educated in any kind of an adequate way. That this kind of certificate, or this kind of diploma of sorts, seems to bear witness more to the conditions of punishment and terror that this young person was subject to then it does about any kind of training or uplifting educational experience that she actually encountered. And so then I would ask the viewer to think about their own ways that they’ve been authorized or labeled as an educated person, or framed. How they construe or understand their own sense of education or what that means to imagine whatever artifacts it is that they hold to as notions of being educated, and whether it’s actually summed up in those objects or what does it actually truly mean to be educated. And what would it mean to decolonize the idea of being educated? That’s a question I could run with for a while.