In my Minneapolis neighborhood there is a long oral history of racially restrictive covenants being used to restrict Jewish and Black ownership. During half of the 20th Century, racially restrictive covenants were written into real estate deeds to keep people of color from buying or living in certain properties in Hennepin County, MN. My first encounter with the word covenant was as a child listening to religious stories. I learned a covenant was a pact between humans and the divine: in my religious tradition it was an agreement between the Jewish God and Abraham, and then Jesus extended the covenant to Christians. I think of a covenant like a blood-oath or the binding together of a community. During the 20th Century, white neighborhoods used covenants as a social pact to control access to home ownership.
In the installation the framed photos behave like windows to the outside world, drawing the viewer’s attention beyond the room in which they’re standing. The walls are papered with contracts and viewers are asked to read and highlight racially restrictive language. The wallpaper glue began failing in the cold and the contracts puckered and peeled away, revealing the fragility of this history. The photographs engage the viewer as a participant: the body looking out. Who is this person looking out? Who or what are they looking for? In the Covenant installation, viewers are invited to take a contract and ask what they will leave in return: not an object, but an idea, a commitment, or a social agreement.
Covenant was installed at the 2018 Art Shanty Projects, a temporary, winter public art installation on a frozen Minnesota lake. Modeled after ice-fishing houses, artists use the frozen lake as a platform to create a temporary, interactive community.
Covenant is an installation of real estate contracts, photographs, and furniture.