Artist Interview

In His Frye Museum Installation, Quenton Baker Finds Lost Voices

The Seattle poet retells the story of a slave ship revolt through erasure poems.

By Stefan Milne August 14, 2018 Published in the September 2018 issue of Seattle Met

Seattle poet Quenton Baker’s Ballast examines the 1841 revolt aboard the Creole—the most successful on a U.S. slave ship. In the installation Baker strikes through senate documents to create erasure poems; he adds new work as commentary. Here, Baker talks Ballast:

What drew me to the revolt was that I didn’t know about it. I consider myself a student of history…. And the fact that I hadn’t even come across this yet, it was like, how is this possible? I know about all the unsuccessful ones.

The very first erasure I did was with whiteout. I think that was an unconscious acquiescence to what a typical poem looks like. And then I made that intentional choice to move to blackout.

The senate document is the only surviving official language. It became a stand in for how ubiquitous a dominant narrative and dominant speech can be. I really wanted to offer a repudiation of that.

The erasures are an attempt to excavate and recover lost speech. The poems in invented form are an exploration of black interiority, what it is to exist in a world that considers you socially dead, that considers you as object, that considers you as the thing that other humans are measured against in order to gain their humanity. What does that mean across time and space?

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