Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman, Josh Cerretti, بيان الصعود إلى السماء Flight Manifesto and Collective Practice.
Audience: Community, Educators, Human Rights / Social Justice Professionals, Young Adults (14+) Workshop capacity: 100
This presentation introduces two art collectives working to confront the spatial traces of the two earliest US military institutions in the City of Bellingham, both built to solidify the settler-colonization of Lhaq’temish (Lummi) and Noxwsʼáʔaq (Nooksack) territory: Fort Bellingham and the supposed house of the former’s captain, George E. Pickett, known as the George E. Pickett Memorial. Where the Fort is absent, now a neighborhood just south of Lummi Nation, the Pickett Memorial is a historically contested site, most recently in the wake of Charlottesville and the global movement to tear down the celebratory symbols of colonizers and enslavers. Pickett happened to be both: raised in an elite Virginia enslaving plantation, a colonizer here, and a Confederate General. And yet, there is no doubt that all of us live in the wake and perpetuation of the system this figure was but a significant, if grotesquely honored, tool of…
At the same time, the “Pickett House” is is also the birthplace of Pickett’s son, Jimmie T. Pickett, whose mother, a First Nations woman from the Northwest Coast (her name and nation are disputed), died after birthing him. Jimmie became an important artist of the Pacific Northwest, representing lands between Portland and Bellingham in highly detailed illustrations and paintings throughout most of his 31 years of life. Significant to our context, he also engaged in an extended struggle to claim his father’s properties which were denied him (as was his existence as the captain’s son) because he wasn’t white. And this is what our presentation is about—a confrontation with the very real and intimate complexity and brutality of settler-colonization through collective, non-hierarchal and artistic contestations with the traumatic memory stored in specific places among us—specific places that constitute our very relationship to the land, our employers, and our own bodies and political relationships. We mean to put our fingers on these places and invite conference attendees to join us thinking through what we can do with them moving forward.
One art collective, FLIGHT MANIFESTO, by the time of the conference, will have enacted a performance walk to the site of Fort Bellingham and then through the mouth of the Nooksack River. Each member of the collective will have walked from a place of personal significance in the city of Bellingham, to eventually converging together on Marine Drive south of the Fort. The other art collective, a class of students from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, will be working through March on a large-scale project that intervenes in some way with the Pickett Memorial, conducting research in archives and meeting with relevant stakeholders, activists, and knowledge keepers in the city.
The first half of the presentation will feature a panel of members from both collectives and several local activists who hold an intimate knowledge of the Pickett Memorial struggle in particular. This panel will also incorporate a short screening of footage from the FLIGHT MANIFESTO walk to Fort Bellingham. The second half will be conducted as an open forum, meant to provoke and brainstorm ideas among all those present, as a circuit of exchange between the collectives and the audience, ideally spawning new relationship, visions, and feelings of accountability and potentiality.
Our presentation is part of an urgent but long-standing, traditional confrontation with US American structures of empire here and elsewhere which Dr. King promoted, clarified, and stood in solidarity with throughout his life, yet particularly in his late years. We converge the practices of anti-racism, anti-capitalism, and anti-empire, in the service of the collective, democratic, and bottom-up construction of another present that is yet rooted in truth and reparation.
Our presentation, in the wings of other projects in Whatcom County—like Josh Cerretti’s “Colonizing and Decolonizing Bellingham” tour and Children of the Setting Sun Productions—, co-unveils the historical conditions our lives here and their continued stakes in everything we do. We feel that to confront these conditions and their continued stakes is deeply empowering, grounding, and situating. Furthermore, half of our presentation is an invitation and provocation to participate, to do something, with us or with others, to intervene in the stories that have been told, and the spaces that are remembered or forgotten.
Josh Cerretti is an organizer and educator who has lived on Coast Salish territory since 2014. He is a co-founder of the prison abolition organization Imagine No Kages and works as an Associate Professor of History and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Western Washington University. Prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest, Josh earned his PhD in Global Gender Studies in Buffalo, NY where he also worked in LGBTQ health. He is the author of Abuses of the Erotic: Militarizing Sexuality in the Post-Cold War United States (University of Nebraska Press 2019).
بيان الصعود إلى السماء Flight Manifesto is a social artwork directed by Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman in long-distance collaboration with Palestinian sound artist Dirar Kalash and a growing organizing collective of co-authors in Whatcom County that includes educator and community organizer Brel Froebe, media artist, researcher and activist Samara Hayley Steele, and the BIPOC social enterprise Cascadia Deaf Nation. The project’s core contribution is a silent walk in three parts over several months along the Nooksack River: a visceral confrontation with foundational architectures and practices of settler-colonization as an ongoing, transnational, and imperial process with definite beginnings in Whatcom County.
Collective Practice: The Pickett House is a student-led field-intensive art seminar instructed by Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Students are working as a collective of artists with the George E. Pickett Memorial in Bellingham, which honors an imperialist, slaveholder, and Confederate general who led the first militarized stages of settler-colonization in Whatcom County. They are working with Confluence Studio, a platform for community design in the 9th Ward of Minneapolis, to publish a book documenting their research and interventions.