The Moment of Sale
For centuries, New Orleans has been described as “sugar central” home of plantations, rum factories,
confectionaries and a thriving sex economy. The Moment of Sale considers the bitter history of Louisiana’s largest
cash crop. Embracing historian Stephanie Camp’s rival geographies thesis, the work imagines the resistance of
enslaved women in the face of constraint.
By 1861, Louisiana produced over 230,000 tons of sugar, bringing about $25 million to a few thousand
planters who fueled their wealth on the backs of Black labor. To satiate this economic success, approximately
one million people passed through New Orleans—the largest slave market in the country—destined to work
in Louisiana’s sugar cane fields and interior cotton plantations. Auction houses, private showrooms, holding
cells, slave quarters and fields all served as carceral locations where the enslaved came to expect “criminal
intimacies” alongside their displacement and dehumanization. Nonetheless, these public and private sites of sex
and violence were also places where the enslaved actualized their agency and control. From being uncooperative
and “artful” to misrepresentation and self-harm; from organizing work stoppages, to escapes and revolts, the
rival geographies of the enslaved provided the space for private and public creative expressions, rest and
recreation, community and self-care, coded communication and defiance. Persistent non-compliance was built into
the social and human fabric of plantation life.
In this sense, The Moment of Sale reads the auction block, the bedroom and the Black body as sites of political
performance where the enslaved recast themselves beyond the point of sale.
kai barrow (b. 1959, Chicago) is a visual and performance artist who lives and works in New Orleans.
Barrow is interested in the praxis of radical imagination. Experimenting with abolition as an artistic vernacular, her
sprawling paintings, installations and sculptures are formed in traditional and non-traditional environments to transgress
biological, ideological and carceral borders. Barrow’s found object sculptures, paintings, performances and installations
use materials such as coffee, cane, indigo, cotton and bones as a visual and ethnographic language. Together with her
four muses: Absurdity, Sarcasm, Myth and Merriment, the work performs queer, Black feminist theory as an aesthetic
A self-taught artist, barrow is a founding member of Gallery of the Streets, a national network of artists, activists, and
scholars who work at the nexus of art, political education, social change and community engagement. She has received
artist residencies, fellowships, and awards from Project Rowhouses, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Joan Mitchell
Center; A Studio in the Woods; the Weavers Project Fellowship, Alternate Roots’ Partners for Change, and the Kindle
Project’s “Makers Muse” awards. In 2020, barrow received a “YBCA 100” award for her work at the intersections of
art and activism.
For more information see, www.kailbarrow.com and www.galleryofthestreets.org.