My Cape is Hanging Somewhere in a Museum is based on capes I created that are embodied through photography, and tell stories about Black folks’ relationship to labor, leisure, and loss. The title is derived from a text conversation with a friend in relationship to an event we were planning to teach community members how to play Spades. I requested 24 hours to review a guiding document and he jokingly called me a “wonder woman” and that I needed to “get busy”, to which I replied that “my cape is hanging somewhere in a museum.”
The washerwoman or laundress has been written about by scholars and musicians, alike. Ranging from Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s 1930 article “The Negro Washerwoman, a Vanishing Figure” to Bessie Smith’s song “Washerwoman Blues.” Sarah, Laundress represents my connection to my paternal great-great-great-grandmother Sarah who migrated from Columbus, GA during the first wave of the Great Migration to Pittsburgh, PA. An archival image of the 1920 census identified her as a “laundress.” This cape features a reproduction of the “laundress” text from the census document. It also features a quote from members of The Washing Society who organized a strike 1881 in Atlanta, GA, as discussed in Tera W. Hunter’s 1997 book, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women´s Lives and Labors After the Civil War. The cape was created using burlap, lace trim, lace and burlap ribbon, and photograph appliques. This photograph was taken at Fort Hunter, one of the largest sites of enslaved labor in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.
This cape was created by hand stitching together 16 needlepoint panels and hand stitching the text, “REST IS THE NEW FLEX.” This expression is meant to counteract popular anti-rest sentiment such as “No days off”, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, “Hustle harder.”
This cape draws its title from a chapter in Tera W. Hunter’s 1997 book, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women´s Lives and Labors After the Civil War, referenced fromArmstead L. Robinson’s essay, “‘Worser dan Jeff Davis’: The Coming of Free Labor during the Civil War, 1861-1865.” Robinson quotes from an 1864 letter where the white woman slave owner tells her relative that the enslaved Black woman upon being told to answer the door replied, “answering bells is played out.” The featured text on the cape is made from pennies in the shape of the numbers 6 and 4. 64 cents is what Black women make on average for every dollar a white man makes. The purpose of this cape is to highlight the time and wage theft that impacts Black women.
I never had an interest in being a StrongBlackWoman but that generational inheritance had already been secured, the cape, essentially functioning as a heirloom that I had been fit for, and expected to put on. This cape draws its title from the opening epigraph of my debut collection of poetry, completed on the heels of my first bout of burnout.
Words and creative concept: Julia Mallory
Photo Credit: Aubrea Thompson,
Bio: Julia Mallory is a storyteller working with a range of medium from text to textiles. She is also the founder of the creative container, Black Mermaids and serves as the Senior Poetry Editor for Raising Mothers and a Poetry Editor for The Loveliest Review. Their work can be found in Barrelhouse, the Black Speculative Arts Movement exhibition “Curating the End of the World: RED SPRING”, Emergent Literary, The Lumiere Review, The Offing, Stellium Literary Magazine, Sugarcane Magazine, Torch Literary Arts, and elsewhere. Their short, experimental film, Grief is the Glitch, debuted in 2022. For more information, visit www.thejuliamallory.com.