Sugar:: Shana M. griffin


Situated on the grounds of sugarcane plantations, bearing witness to and seeding the violent cultivation, harvesting, and production of sugar—soil represents the consequences of racial slavery and conquest executed through the carceral spaces of slave ships, auction blocks, plantations arrangements, architectural designs of confinement, and social death for export and consumption.

The installation SOIL explores the intimacies of what is left behind in and on the soil of former and current sugarcane plantations lining the East and West Banks of the Mississippi River. From abandoned and vacant plantations to tourist destinations and museums, to former slave cabins and private residencies, to levees, cleared sites, and flourishing sugar cane fields, SOIL includes over 70 glass jars of soil, water, and plant matter alongside bricks, ephemera, and remnants of life on sugarcane plantations. The installation’s dirt and found objects span twenty-eight sugarcane plantations, fields, and levees across eight parishes, burying the marginalized lives of enslaved people who worked, died, created families, and witnessed loved ones born and sold into servitude on the grounds from which the soil was collected.  

As a cartographic exercise tracing sites of violence, SOIL articulates ‘forgotten scars’ of past and present disappearances demanding recognition and challenging our addictive appetite for a crop marked by slavery and colonialism.

Shana M. griffin (b. 1974, New Orleans) is a Black feminist activist, researcher, sociologist, artist, geographer, and mother. Her work engages history, memory, and space as sites of resistance, rupture, and protest. 

Shana’s practice is research-based and interdisciplinary, existing across the fields of sociology, geography, Black feminist thought, digital humanities, and land-use planning and within movements challenging urban displacement, carcerality, reproductive control, climate impacts, and gender-based violence. 

She engages in projects that attend to the lived experiences of the Black diaspora, centering the experiences of Black women most vulnerable to the violence of poverty, incarceration, polluted environments, reproductive legislation, economic exploitation, and housing discrimination. She is the founder of PUNCTUATE, a feminist research, art, and activist initiative foregrounding the embodied aesthetics and practices of Black feminist thought; and creator of DISPLACED, a multimedia feminist and public history project tracing the geographies of Black displacement, dislocation, and containment.

Shana is a 2021 Creative Capital Awardee and a Junebug Productions, 2020-2021 John O’Neal Cultural Arts Fellow. She was a 2020-2021 Visual Artist in Resident at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, presenting her studio work as part of SOLOS: Exhibitions and New Work Showcases by CAC Artists-in-Residence, featuring DISPLACING Blackness: Cartographies of Violence, Extraction, and Disposability