In Conditions of Fresh Water
The story of water is a story of place, race, and power. Water shapes the conditions of places where we live, grow, and change. Power shapes the contours of place. Race is a metaphor for power.
In Conditions of Fresh Water tells the story of water up close, through the lived experiences of black folks from places in Alamance County, North Carolina, and Lowndes County, Alabama, and at a distance, through the abstract representations of the infrastructure and architecture that they navigate, negotiate, and transform.
These black places—a cluster of unincorporated communities in Alamance County and the incorporated town of White Hall in Lowndes County—originated during the Reconstruction era, when newly emancipated black folks sought to create livable futures for themselves by establishing communities on the often undesired land of white planters.
Above ground, they built homes, churches, schools, stores, and juke joints. Underground, they constructed wells, dug outhouses, buried their dead with dignity.
In the twenty-first century, their quest for self-determination manifests through tenacious legal and political battles for access to basic amenities—clean drinking water, safe wastewater sanitation, and other critical infrastructure—provided to most of their white neighbors.
Without water, these places cannot grow.
We, visual artist Torkwase Dyson and lawyer/environmental social scientist Danielle Purifoy, traveled to Alamance and Lowndes Counties in the summer of 2016 with Studio South Zero (SSZ), a 6 x 8 x 12 ft. mobile solar-powered artist workspace built by Dyson with recycled materials. We partnered with community development organizations at both sites—the West End Revitalization Association (Alamance County) and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (Lowndes County).
SSZ served as a black-within-black place, a living room where people gathered, lent a hand, asked questions, and offered their memories of everyday life and change in these communities, covering at least seven decades.
This multimedia exhibit reflects our responses to our encounters with these places and the power—black and white—that continues to shape them.
It is also intended as an interactive space—please do sit, read, listen, and respond to what you see and hear and feel.
—Danielle Purifoy and Torkwase Dyson