just let the dead in is a meditation on traditions of resistance, violence, and blackness. An interactive installation, Agostini uses photographs, projections, poetry, and audio to explore the mythology of black and brown bodies in Guyana. The installation explores how Black folks reclaim the fantastic to build new languages of survival, and hosted a series of events to invite participant engagement and meditation, including poetry readings, panels and healing ceremonies for Black LGBTQ survivors of gender based violence. The installation centered an altar to Agostini's great great grandmother, an unnamed Black women from the 19th century .Viewers were encouraged to write blessings to their own their ancestors and other survivors within their lineage.
My maternal grandmother was born in the middle of the Pomeroon River, ushered into life by her grandmother, a midwife, soothsayer and farmer. Granny has told me stories of how Great Great Granny continued to usher her into life even after the work of birthing was done. The times Great Great Granny would come to her home, sack of provisions in hand for a hungry family of thirteen, all in a three room house by the river, ruled by an angry man.
It would seem we keep saving each other.
My paternal grandmother taught me to read, sew, read my plays, and convinced me beyond a doubt that I, a chubby little black girl with fat braids, was a genius. At the time, I thought she meant I was a genius at writing and art, but now I have come to recognize that this is a genius that has been refined and passed down as an act of resistance through generations of enslavement, violence and servitude.
We have a genius for loving. We have a genius for violence.
Before my great granny passed at 102, she shared a picture of her mother with us. Slight, pale, she was a tiny woman in a corseted dress, and bonnet, lips barely parted. Everytime we asked Great Granny to tell us about her, she would weep-and say nothing. The legend was that she was killed by her husband, my great-great-grandfather. I don’t know her name, and most likely never will. Just the inheritance of violence I know intimately.
Many of us in our family have been ruled by men: indifferent, loving, drunk, wise. Men who could cheat on their wives for years, humiliate them to their faces, and then rock a child to sleep with a lullaby that can still my heart in its tenderness.
I want to be able to tell you that these men are monsters, because it would make my life easier. I can’t. History is a round, funny thing. I can’t talk about my father as a prolific philanderer, without also talking about the man who wept in front of me because he was scared he wasn’t a good enough father. Or the man who held me in his arms every night as I fell asleep, protecting me from the monsters I was sure would come.
None of this is absolution. But I am writing to understand why my mother stays, why my grandmother stayed, and a whole world of black women who have suffered because they were in fear without these men, their children would not eat. I’ve spent years talking with my aunties, grannys and mother - all strong, proud women about this - and have met a whole surprising world of myths, fables and legends. Men cheat because they have the evil eye, and women go mad because they displeased a jumbee.
We don’t talk about the fact that Guyana has the highest rate of domestic violence in the Caribbean or its roots in a brutal system of enslavement, indentured servitude and indigenous genocide. How can we? What does it mean to try to hold discourse on a historical bondage that is strangling us even now.
I know this work is unforgivable. Unspeakable. I want to love us as we are, not what we have been trained to remember for survival. I think there is room for that. There must be.
I love every artery of Guyana: the Pomeroon River, the way it flows, how it is as pitch black as my great great granny farming among the graves in Kabakaburi. I love what the water holds, I love what we say it is: a universe of water babies, ole higues, moongazers and uprisings. We birthed this: a group of slaves, indentured servants and Arawaks, all meant to die. We made all of this meaning: lessons that taught young girls and boys to hold off on their pleasure so that their children can live. I want my pleasure now. I want to hold it with both hands and not be shamed of what my body can do unforced. I want to love myself as I am.
I think the dead can teach us that. just let the dead in is a call for Black and Brown folks to come together and connect with our dead in public spaces. It is a collective place meant to celebrate and honor the ways our ancestors not only survived but found freedom, however fleeting, and build a roadmap for lasting liberation. I think we need this, I think we desire it, I think it is our right.