During my time as an MFA candidate in graphic design at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), I experimented with video, digital, and analog making. A few mediums I worked with were paper, thread, ink, paint, photography, and collage. I traveled and referenced it extensively prior to Covid-19 in my packets. When the world was grounded, I was one of the first to lose my income which meant I had to pivot from physically traveling, although it was essential to me. What would my thesis tackle when travel had been a significant part of my life and work?
As I pondered how my voice would resonate in prose, shape and form, I remembered some of the notes from my critiques. Common themes began to emerge, including connecting dots, history, travel, circles, and global awareness of Blackness. Why have we been hated for so long? What is the true reason? The boiling over of attitudes that should have been laid to rest with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Eras snowballed once again onto our screens with the untimely murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I felt like I was gut-punched repeatedly with no recourse—Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on steroids. Seeing a movie or reading about a murder was not the same as watching it and knowing that the real-life body going limp would no longer house that person’s spirit. I WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. I wasn’t asleep before, but I am wide awake now.
With this awareness, a fervor to understand history and its connection exploded within me. I wanted to know the answers to questions I didn’t even know I would have and will yet have. As a starting point, I began researching my lineage with two of my family’s surnames. By doing this, it allowed me the ability to travel again, not physically, at first, but through time while diving into the annals of African-American ancestry for my thesis.
The research has not been easy. At best, it has been quite tricky and frustrating. With each discovery, there are twice as many holes. One of my professors even suggested this work would continue for the next ten years. Honestly, I had already decided to give myself five years post-thesis to continue, but another five?, Tuh! I didn’t expect that. Yet, I know me, and I’ll do it. Nevertheless, what I have assessed about this type of research, is that it does take time to be thorough, especially when oral history is suspended within a time continuum, names are misspelled or duplicated, dates have fallen into wormholes, and information jumps states like beaming into different galaxies.
As you travel within the three main sections, I hope you experience my family and me through the lens of humanness, not from an alternate reality, but on equal footing worthy of a designation other than “animal.” With this first offering, I hope you allow yourself to be open to uncomfortable truths, broad inferences, and poetic nuances that oft time required irregular and obscure structures, visuals, and addendums.
By excavating history, I was able to fill some of the gaps even realizing that this work embodied the Ghanaian belief of Sankofa. It is a word from the Akan tribe that means “to go back to the past and bring forward that which is useful” or “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” For the generations to come, I hope this work will be viewed as an informative departure from the typical genealogical format. I hope to house knowledge that would be lost as the family patriarchs and matriarchs continuously transition.
So, if you have more questions than answers, it’s done purposefully. If you feel empty, this is how I have felt during this process. If you are perplexed, imagine being Black with a scraping of answers. Glean what could be helpful for your life while keeping in mind that some of us have to wade in deeper waters for longer simply for ONE NAME to eventually and ultimately have no names past a specific date, by design.
Mony Nation is a published photographer, writer, and designer based in New York City. She has written travel stories for MITH magazine, contributed travel tips for Travel & Leisure, co-editor for Black Female Photographer’s new magazine, The MelaninLens, and has been published in the VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts) Hunger Mountain Review #25. She has traveled Europe, Asia, and the United States as one of the “Faces of Norwegian” airlines. Privately, her other travels have taken her to Africa, across America, to the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Mony has worked as a guest director, videographer, and photographer for Berlin-based fashion vlog, Suit Yourself with Paige. In addition, Mony was chosen to display her digital artwork for a group exhibition at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, LACDA. In 2021, she partnered with Venn.Bushwick to host a solo photography exhibition entitled “Kenya: From Both Sides of the Glass.”
She has served as the graphic designer and photographer of Our Family Dinner, a non-profit that emphasized connection over the dinner table, in both New York and London. Moreover, Mony recently released a colorful graphic fashion collaboration with eponymous label Sherie L. Nevett, a fashion house based in Atlanta.
Presently, Mony is working towards her MFA in graphic design and writing her first travel book. You can view more of her work at www.monynation.com.