Subcribe to Our Newsletter

“Black Dissection”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

Download “Black Dissection”

Collaborators’ Q&A

What inspired you to bring your work to Broadsided?
Poet Trey Rhone: I think that the work at Broadsided is amazing. Being able to participate in this sort of reverse ekphrasis is exciting, and looking through the catalog of fantastic writers and artists, I just wondered how an artist would respond to one of my poems.

What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Meghan Keane:
I was drawn to this poem in particular because of its unflinching honesty. It is so honest it stops you. You have a physical response to this poem. A deep visceral pain is not something that happens with all poems. 

How did this poem come to be?
Poet Trey Rhone: I believe that I wrote this poem while I was in graduate school. I don’t remember the prompt, but I do know that there was a period where I became acutely aware that I am Black. I had a phase where one of my obsessions to write about was all things dealing with blackness, such as how black death is ever-present, what it’s like to be a black queer in the South, etc. I also saw a video on Twitter about this cute mortician who was answering questions for Wired, and the line “the mortician takes make-up classes to add color back in” was inspired by that video.

How did this image come to be?
Artist Meghan Keane: I created this image using Band-Aids on glass and used it as a matrix off of which to pull a print. The artwork seen here is the plate, not the print. For a long time in my artwork I have been drawn to loops generally, for the feelings and emotion that they manage to convey by being lines that have a relationship to gravity. It always conveys a weight—gravity in both senses of the word.

Making loops out of Band-Aids, at the surface level, just at the  materials level without even thinking about deep meaning, is visually arresting. They create a striking pattern, a compelling texture, and it’s something you want to spend time looking at to try to figure out what’s really going on. And then you add on the layers of meaning: what does it mean to make a piece out of Band-Aids? What does it mean to convey structural violence through an everyday kind of object? How grossly inadequate is a band-aid actually in this context?

I think this piece speaks pretty clearly for itself; I always try to make art that’s quite legible. I don’t try to make anything that’s mysterious and confusing. I did try to make everything very readable to the viewer. I think you can see clearly: the color choice is intentional; the material choice is intentional; the sort of feeling that it conveys in relationship to Trey’s stop-you-in-your-tracks poem is intentional. I really sat with this poem to try to see what would be an art piece where, when the art piece and the poem come together, there’s a whole third layer of meaning that starts to emerge that’s distinct from the poem and the artwork by themselves. I hope the viewer can sense that, and can experience that which is spoken and articulated, and what is an unspoken element that is created between what the poet is conveying in the poem and what the art piece is conveying.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Does the artist’s response make you see the poem differently?
Poet Trey Rhone: Once I was told that “Black Dissection” was going to be the poem featured in Broadsided, the first things that came to mind were “oh, they’re probably going to put this in black or white to highlight the “lack of color” bit in the poem,” “they’re going to do a cow’s eye,” and “what if they use a dead body?” When I saw what Meghan had created, I went back to my poem and read it over a few times, as this wasn’t what I had expected at all. In a way, it’s like she looked further beyond the work and extracted images that even I hadn’t thought of. To me, the image looks like necklaces or bits of a bike chain, and that just makes me think of what is left behind after we die. Perhaps these are the necklaces that adorn the dead body, or maybe the bike chains have gone slack since they’re no longer in use.

Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Meghan Keane: I think what shifted for me while working on this visual response was trying to figure out the level of explicitness, or let’s say illustrative quality, that I wanted the work to be about. I had initially debated doing something a lot more figurative and representational. As I explored that, it became clear to me that what would be most potent was to not explore anything extremely literal—that I would reserve that potency to the descriptive language of the poet; nothing more needs to be “said”—and that my job was really to figure out, in a more abstract way, how to echo and amplify the meaning that the poet has put into the poem. What I wanted to do was respond to this poem, that is very explicitly an articulation of the experience of categorically unjustifiable and inexcusable white racist violence toward Black people, Black bodies, Black culture, Black joy, and create a piece that demonstrates an affirmative recognition and centering of the truths being spoken and expressed. Which I sincerely hope the piece has achieved.

What stands out for you when you consider this folio of broadsides as a whole?
Artist Meghan Keane:
Observationally, I notice with this April release that there’s a real element of memory and recollection, or reflecting on things, for a lot of the pieces. There’s an element of processing and grappling, sometimes grief. It’s a powerful collection of work. An honor to be part of it.
Poet Trey Rhone: I see that this seems to be an issue where things are left behind or, in some way, shape, or form, they remain. I also see that a lot of these poems have strong and finite endings. A sense of finality instead of wondering. I also wonder if the artists talk to one another as they’re working. Something like, “Hey, I’m going for realism when approaching this poem. How about you?” or “Colors are really drawing me in today. Maybe a muted background to really let them shine.” In a way, the art is talking to one another, just as the poems are.

What question would you like to ask your collaborator?
Poet to Artist: Did you have any fears or worries when approaching my poem?
Artist Meghan Keane: Yes, absolutely. I was very concerned about doing right by your poem. I wasn’t sure it was even appropriate for me to do a response to it. I actually discussed my concerns with the editors and was very clear that if I made any missteps in what I produced that I wanted that feedback and I would be fully accountable for it. This concern comes in part from being very attuned to and part of the online outcry at the time regarding Dana Schutz’s deeply harmful painting, her decision to recreate Emmett Till’s funeral portrait, that the Whitney Museum opted to compound  harms by showcasing it in the US art market’s premier event, the Whitney Biennial. It’s absolutely baseline that white / European colonial settler heritage people and particularly artists understand how violent the privilege of “cluelessness” is and how it reinscribes white oppression. With that understanding, my aim was to do to the best of my ability an artwork that centered the poem, the poem’s expression, its tone, and underscored the truth being conveyed. I hope it lands and that Trey feels like his work was attended to with care. My feelings are also of course irrelevant to the genocidal anti-Black white supremacist socio-political reality Trey is having us contend with—as such, the entire orientation is: does the poet, Trey, feel seen, and that his work was heard and honored. That is absolutely what is most important.

Artist to Poet: I would like to know what the poet thinks about this collaboration and what stands out for the poet.
Poet Trey Rhone: I like this collaboration as it isn’t what I expected. The art isn’t of any of the main images in the poem and I’m curious to see and read what your process was or how you managed upon this final artwork. What stands out the most to me is that there’s color in this piece. It’s still muted and more earthly colors, but not in black and white as I might have pictured it being. Of course the main image which I believe to be necklaces stands out as well as I’m wondering what they’re laying on. Is it a dead body like someone in the poem, is it laying on their tombstone, or is something else completely? It’s a well welcomed surprise and just having any art attached to my work is wonderful so thank you Meghan!

Describe your ideal “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Trey Rhone: This might sound weird, but I’d say in someone’s room. I always said that I wanted to be a poet that can make other people feel seen. So, if there is a black queer kid, student, person, or whomever out there and they feel drawn in and connected to this, then I think that I did a good job.
Artist Meghan Keane: I think my ideal Vectorization would be seeing this on every community bulletin board around the world, because I think everybody should read Trey’s poem.

If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Trey Rhone: I’d say it’d be the waiting-for-a storm-to-come kind of weather. Where the sky is gray, the sun is still trying its best to peak out but can’t get through that cloud wall, there is no rain yet, but you can smell it, you can sense it, and it’ll be here, or maybe it won’t.

Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Trey Rhone: I just really like working with forms, but the more content-based ones like aubades and nocturnes. That and trying to get people to write more about the taboo, the sensual, and the secret. So, my prompt would be to write about the welcoming or lamenting of the day or night, but think about what usually goes down around those times of day and try to put it into words and say what usually goes unsaid.
Artist Meghan Keane: I don’t know if this is a favorite prompt, but a prompt that comes to mind is create a work inspired by your favorite childhood memory. I know culturally we spend a lot of time thinking about more negative impacts from childhood, but I think it’s also interesting to uplift any bits that shaped us positively. 

Read any good books lately?
Poet Trey Rhone: Pig by Sam Sax is a phenomenal book. They’re a master of seeing how far and wide they can write about the topic and subject of pig and what all comes through with that word. They also aren’t afraid of being political, raunchy, kinky, or queer. If I had to pair it with another book, like a kind of wine and cheese moment, I would pick Explodingly Yours by Chen Chen, as they’re a bit in conversation. Both are very sexy and queer. Both are very expertly and beautifully written. I hope to one day join that canon and conversation.
Artist Meghan Keane:
Unfortunately, I don’t really read books anymore. The Internet has broken me a bit in that regard! I do read a lot of articles and one of the best articles I read recently was a publication that talks about the big business of Uyghur genocide denial.

I pay a lot of attention to the multiple genocides going on in the world right now (Syria, Uyghurs, Palestine, Ukraine, Tigray, Sudan, Congo, Rohingya, etc.) and it’s been critical for me to learn about the sheer volume and sophistication of covert foreign propaganda networks in our activist spaces that are out there trying to tell us that these genocides are not real (atrocity denial/minimizing). Of course we should not be OK with that and like all state violence and oppression we should be vocally opposing them in all ways possible.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Trey Rhone: My partner and I do this thing where we watch the Oscar-nominated short films before the award ceremony, and there were two that really stood out to me. For animation, it’d be the Iranian film “Our Uniform” by Yegane Moghaddam, which was beautiful in the way the story was told and painted on clothes as the medium. Seeing the way the paint, colors, and fabric all move and work together was simply amazing, and it was a great story as well (it should’ve won). For live action, it’d be Canada’s “Invincible” by Vincent René-Lortie. It was based on the true story of a troubled youth who wanted to do right and be at place in this world but also longed to be free. It made me sad at points, as you could see the kid’s talents in his words and how he interacts with the world, but it just ends in tragedy. I was rooting for this film, but Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” was a delight, and I knew it was going to win.
Artist Meghan Keane: I have extremely disabling Long Covid, so I am unable to really leave my house, it’s inaccessible for me to go and see art anymore since people stopped masking to protect others, but there is a local artist whose work I’ve had the pleasure of learning about. I recommend the recent work of Camille Laoang; her website has a lot of great abstract pieces to spend time with.

Anything else?
Poet Trey Rhone: I feel as though this Broadsided movement would work great as a class or even a community event. Where there are some poets and artists, and they do a trade of some sort. They both get a chance to experience ekphrasis in the way that suits them, and so much wonderful art would come out of it. I don’t know if this is a thing, but it should be a thing. Also, big thanks to everyone at Broadsided for selecting my poem, and thank you to Meghan for making something beautiful to coincide with it. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity.
Artist Meghan Keane: I’m curious for the poet, Trey, how was this experience—if this was your first time having an artist respond visually to your poems? Especially if it’s your first time having an artist that you don’t know respond to your poems, what was it like for you?

Tagged: , , , ,