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Plantation Poker: The Merkin Stories

This multi-panel work depicts a series of female pubic triangles juxtaposed with text panels. Afro-centric hairstyles embedded with the tools of torture used during plantation slavery (whips, spurs, shackles), are woven into each triangle. The text is taken from diary entries made by Thomas Thistlewood, a plantation overseer living in Jamaica between 1750 and 1786. In these personal records of his life on the plantation, he documents both his long-term relationship with his "slave-wife" Phibbah, and his countless sexual encounters with his dependent female slaves. This piece plays on the pubic triangle as site of female sexual exploitation during slavery, and as with my earlier Creole Portraits series, suggests hair decoration asa. form of self-empowerment. Drawing on the symbolic function of wigs worn by European men in the eighteenth century to signify social order, this work explores the fashion for "counterfeit hair fora. woman's privy parts" (1776) that became popular around the same time because of the prevalence of syphilis (the cure for which caused hair loss). Analagous to the beard, the merkin was literally a "pubic wig" that I now reclaim to speak to female Creole identity and a. history of bondage. The suggestively phallic placement of these implements of torture serves to empower the female body. The stereotype of white female purity also appears in the one lighter coloured triangle in which crucifix shaped patch of hair has been removed.

Download PDF - Not to Look Away, by Patrick Mahon, in Braided Narratives Exhibition brochure (Open Studio, Toronto, 2004)

Subverting a Caribbean 'Natural' History, by Joscelyn Gardner, in Visible Language Journal (Rhode Island School of Design, 2008)

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