SRISA Contemporary Art Gallery


Southern Trees

By Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway

May 7th, 7-9pm 2009

SRISA Contemporary Art Gallery

Via San Gallo 53r

Southern Trees is a multimedia installation by Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway that investigates cultural lineage; as inherited collective identities and as specifically documented genealogy. The installation will be divided into four parts that reflect upon these ideas from various aspects and through the combination of a variety of disparate mediums.



The central form is a continuation of Thompson’s Palms series in which palm leaves and trees are created by hand sewing old quilts over welded steel armatures. The work conceptually links representations of Christian martyrs from Italian Art History to martyrs of African-American History through the re-contextualisation of the palm leaf (a symbol for the martyr) and the use of culturally specific materials. The wavering and seemingly dying nature of the trees contrasts the palm’s imagery in the European tradition as the perfection in nature and makes reference to the tortured past and distorted make-up of the present day African-American family tree. Treadaway’s individual investigation reflects on the breakdown of cultural passage and family history using archival photographs and documents dating as far back as the 1880’s in New Orleans, LA. The reworking of these familial and historic references employ digital technologically to filter them through a contemporary lens, emphasizing the distance from our ancestors and evoking the fragility of our generational relations. In this installation Treadaway’s work takes the form of various census records, birth certificates and legal genealogy documentation tattered and attached to the root ball of the fallen tree. They range from a shredded pulp that engulfs them to frail and decomposing sheets of crumpled paper. These references are set in contrast to Thompson’s representation of the family tree that seems to crawl across the floor having erupted from its terra cotta container, the evidence of its metaphoric missing limbs visible up and down its trunk. Attached to the top of the tree are a series of small speakers strung together in grapples like dates. From these speakers, numerous overlapped versions of the famous song, Strange Fruit are played. The fruit of the palm tree was considered symbolic of fecundity and richness in ancient times. This symbolism is set in contrast to the songs reference to “strange fruit hanging from the…. southern trees” and the songs overlapping and layered orchestration speaks of historical distortion and of sampling in Black contemporary music forms. The installation draws connections to the south and its undeniably linked and perpetually reciprocal cultural divisions.