To Die For: Decoding John Henry
This fall, in the thick of my research, I noticed myself feeling more and more uneasy about exactly how it seems we are supposed to feel about Henry’s story if we follow the narrative cues of many of these recurring motifs. Around the same time, I came across the work of Sheldon Scott, a performance artist based in Washington, D.C., who had just performed a body of work under the title ‘Folk’Lore’ at the Emerge Art Fair. Scott, who spent his first few years out of college as a practicing therapist, focuses much of his work on the types of subliminal conditioning that we glean from folklore and how these in turn shape social conceptualizations and treatment of blackness. ‘A Man Ain’t Nothing But A Man’, the segment of the installation that revolves around John Henry, is a searing indictment of the mythology for its glorification of the exhaustion of black male bodies and its affirmation of the virulently persistent notion that black lives are expendable.