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A photo of old yellow and maroon stairs with vines growing on them
Christina McField photographed “Stairway to Never” in Utica, Miss., in 2018, and she interprets the photo as life being short, so go after what you want now. The vines, she said, remind her of divine spirits pulling her back on her journey. Photo courtesy Christina McField

Sipp Culture’s Artists-in-Residence Explore Black Legacy, Inheritance and Nature from Jackson to Holly Springs

Christina McField is from Jackson, but she’s a country girl through and through. Her mother is from Philadelphia, Miss., where she spent a lot of her time as a child. She grew up with antiques in the house and her mom sharing the history of pieces passed down from generation to generation.

Her first interactions with art started with her mother’s hair salon when Christina was a child. Surrounded by flat irons and hair spray, she would draw treehouses and people’s names with little rainbows over them. They would also sell bracelets she made, she said.

A woman with black hair, wearing a black turtleneck and shading her face with her hand from the sun
Christina McField is one of 11 artists who receives support from Sipp Culture’s Rural Performance and Production Lab, which seeks to support the southern artists whose work is centered on rural living, history, places and bodies. Photo courtesy Christina McField

“I remember wanting to go to summer camps for art … but my summer camp was that hair salon. I was supposed to be at the hair salon taking in everything that I saw, the conversations that were had or the people coming through selling DVDs and bootleg stuff. That type of stuff inspired me,” McField said.

Her mother, Hiweda Jones, inspired her and her dad encouraged her, instilling in her a hustle to go after what she wanted. It all culminated into “Where Time Stands Still,” her latest exhibition, which Sipp Culture’s Rural Performance/Production Lab supports.

The Rural Performance and Production Lab’s goal is to support the development of new works focused on rural living, history, places and bodies. Artists will receive direct funding or a configuration of an on-site residency, coaching and support from a team of advisers over an 18-month period. The program supports artists living in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“We found that our RPPL residency program is best positioned to support artists transitioning from one place in their career trajectory into another self-defined place,” Sipp Culture Artistic Director Carlton Turner stated in a press release on Sept. 7.

For the 2021-2022 season, Sipp Culture announced the 11 artists who will receive support from the program, with two of the 11 artists from the Magnolia State: Christina McField and Annette Hollowell, the latter of whom with the help of her partner Free Feral (they/them).

“We are in a time that calls for change, both structural and intentional. Artists are built to adapt. Our residency program is designed to aid in that transition,” Turner added.

‘Objects People Leave Behind’

McField’s “Where Time Stands Still” is still evolving, she said. It’s a project born out of her love for old things and nature, a love that started when she was a child travelling back and forth between Jackson and Philadelphia, Miss.

Flier for Sipp Culture. It's brown and has 12 peoples faces in circles. The text reads: Meet the rppl artists! 2021/22. Rural Performance Production Lab
Utica arts organization Sipp Culture announced 11 artists to be supported through their Rural Performance Production Lab for 2021-2022. (L-R) The artists pictured include Christina McField, Annette Hollowell/Free Feral, Jasmine Cannon, Salaam Green, Erin Washington, Carlton Bell, Shawn Whitsell, Tony Bingham, Mwende “Freequency” Katwiwa, Brian Egland and Shavondria Jackson. Photo courtesy Sipp Culture

“I was subconsciously going to old abandoned houses, just photographing them because I loved them, (and) I used to see old abandoned houses, old signs and different things on the road to Philadelphia, Mississippi,” McField told the Mississippi Free Press.

“I just feel like there’s beauty in those structures, in those objects that people leave behind. They tell a story, and my focus is to bring a eulogy for the lost ways of life and to capture the visceral experience of walking into that place,” she added.

With support from Sipp Culture, McField said she is hoping to explore more of her sculpture work, which she received her BFA in from Mississippi State University in 2016.

“I want to bring in some of the salvaged wood, the peeling paint and left-behind things into my sculpture work to now tell the story. So I’m excited to just expand on what I’ve already built,” the artist said.

So far, McField has photographed aging structures across Mississippi in Utica, Starkville, Brookhaven, Jackson, Philadelphia, Clarksdale, Yazoo and Pickens, but her goal is to travel and capture structures in more places across the state.

She said taking photos of these houses is a way for her to connect back to the land. Nature is important to her, and she spends a lot of time in it as it helps her connect to her spiritual side. She loves being outside, fishing, kayaking or walking barefoot.

With the structures she photographs, McField appreciates how mother nature seems to consume them. It allows her to fantasize about who lived in those homes, she said.

“I go to these abandoned spots, but it’s like, I’m more drawn to them in the summertime or spring when the vines (and) everything is green, like I’m attracted to foliage,” McField said. “I’m trying to get out of that. Fall and winter is coming up, so I kind of want to challenge myself to take pictures when everything’s dead and see how that looks.”

On The Other S
Christina McField captured “The Other Side” in Jackson, Miss., in 2018. McField took a photo of what looks to be a dilapidated school building through a small peephole. Photo courtesy Christina McField

McField said she came to a revelation that the work helps her uncover something new about herself that she wants to share with other people. It’s not about her, she said.

“Nature’s all about spirit,” the photographer said. “It shows up in the work, and now it’s like, I get it. I get right why I picked that picture. Nature’s amazing, and it always wins. We’re always going against nature, but nature will always win.”

With this being her first residency, McField said what is most exciting about working with Sipp Culture is that they give resources and they put no restraints on her creatively. When she visits their offices in Utica, she feels like she’s at home and part of their family, she said.

“I can come for three weeks and stay there, or I can stay a month, whatever I need to be able to pull out the work that I need to create. I’m excited to hopefully talk to the community there in Utica and talk with some of the families about the houses that they live in or come in their house and see things that they collected or passed down from their family,” the photographer said.

An old white victorian home with vines growing across it and signs of neglect
Christina McField took “Childhood Memories” in Jackson, Miss., in 2018. The former glorious home is decaying on Hooker Street near downtown in the capital city. The Jackson native and artist said she has always been attracted to aging structures and old signs from her time in Philadelphia, Miss., when she was a child. Photo courtesy Christina McField

This type of environment is one that she wants to provide for artists here in Jackson through her business, The WoodGrain Studio. She offers consults in art administration, curating, artist advisement, programming and exhibition design.

“I want to create a space for Black artists, where they can come and enjoy good music, enjoy art and just hang out. We can talk and critique our work or get to know each other. I feel like that space is so needed here and we’re all looking for that,” the artist said.

“Being an artist from Mississippi is a gift and to be influenced by the nature, land and histories that make up the state is a powerful thing,” McField added. “We as Mississippians have so much richness here that the world will never understand. I’m proud to live my truth and create work that pushes the progressive art movement forward.”

The Legacy of FoxFire Ranch

Albert Hollowell, Annette Hollowell’s grandfather, filed a written intention to purchase 80 acres of land in Waterford, Miss., in 1918, a small town located between Holly Springs and Oxford. He purchased the land a year later, the same year her grandmother was born.

He was an older man when he met and married her grandmother, Annette recalled. Albert passed away when her father was 9 years old and the family moved to Holly Springs.

“(My grandmother) passed away in 2019. She made it a hundred years, so she has been with us as long as this land has,” Hollowell told the Mississippi Free Press. “When her husband had passed away, the land went to her and then all of their children. My dad and his brothers and sisters, six of them in total, had a child share of the land.”

Albert Hollowell purchased these 80 acres now known as Foxfire Ranch in 1919. He is often described as a man who sported 3-piece suits, hats, nice shoes and a pocket watch. This picture was taken around 1940
Albert Hollowell purchased 80 acres now known as Foxfire Ranch in 1919. He was a man who sported three-piece suits, hats, nice shoes and a pocket watch. This picture dates from around 1940. Photo courtesy Annette Hollowell

Hollowell’s aunts and uncles eventually left Mississippi in the ’60s and ’70s, migrating to Cleveland, Ohio, while her father entered the military. He and her mother travelled, but always felt the pull to come back home. “In the ’90s, my dad said that he had a dream where his father came to him, spoke very clearly and told him to get the land,” she said.

Her parents would end up buying her aunts and uncles out of their shares, then retiring and returning to the land in 2000, which is now known as FoxFire Ranch. In 2008, the family turned their land into a communal space for events and entertainment.

The name derives from a glowing, bioluminescent fungus found throughout the foothills of the Appalachia trace. Her mom suggested they name the property Hollowell Ranch, but her father was adamant that he didn’t want to name the land after himself, she said.

“When he was a little boy, his brothers were older, and they would go coon hunting at night,” Hollowell explained. “They would go out at night, and they’d come back home and talk about this glowing bioluminescent fungus that they see out in the woods along creek beds and rotten tree stumps.”

Hollowell has been working as an attorney in Mississippi for more than 20 years. But in 2018, she heeded the call of her family land and began exploring Black legacy, inheritance and land ownership in what is now known as “We Are The Promised Land,” a project that Sipp Culture’s Rural Performance Production Lab supports.

“We Are The Promised Land” is a multimedia examination of Black inheritance through Mississippi’s Hill Country. Audiences will follow Annette as she takes stewardship of her family land, questions regional and family legacy and looks at what it means to give our ancestors the afterlife they deserve.

“There is something when a piece of land and a responsibility to land and legacy calls to you and what it looks like to stop doing the things you know you could do and start doing the things you know you must do,” Hollowell said.

‘Black Inheritance and Legacy’

Hollowell and her partner, Free Feral (they/them), have been working on “We Are The Promised Land” for three and half years. A friend introduced Feral and Hollowell in March 2018, and Feral just so happened to be looking for a documentary project about Black families and Black inheritance, Feral told the Mississippi Free Press.

The open air Main Pavilion at Foxfire Ranch is the central gathering space for events
The open-air Main Pavilion at FoxFire Ranch in Holly Springs, Miss., is the central gathering space for events. The ranch has been an entertainment venue and event space since 2008. Photo courtesy Annette Hollowell

“The premise for this project or the question that we started exploring in the beginning was our lives as being an afterlife for our ancestors,” they said. “It’s kind of a concept that like we have inherited so much from them, but then also that we have inherited them. They are within us.”

The concept of inheritance has different facets. Inheritance could include the material in terms of land and objects, but then there is also spiritual and emotional inheritance. Part of exploring that emotional inheritance is interrogating the practices, ideas or emotions that are harmful to us, our ancestors, our family dynamics, and reconfiguring those things into something we want to intentionally pass forward, Feral explained.

Free Feral in a dark blue top and light blue pants, crouching in the grass in front of a wall of banana plants
Free Feral, whose pronouns are they/them, is a documentarian hailing from California, but they have been living in the South for more than 10 years. They have been documenting Annette Hollowell and her family for “We Are The Promised Land” for three and a half years. Photograph by Jinks Holladay

“What are we obligated to do with that inheritance? What is our responsibility with that? What can we do with the knowledge that we have of who they were to give them the best possible afterlife?” Free posited.

Free Feral is originally from California, but has been living in the South for more than 10 years. They have family ties to the region, with their father being from Texas and grandmother’s side of the family hailing from Lafayette, La.. Following Annette and her family has piqued Free’s interest in looking into their family, they told the Mississippi Free Press.

“It’s such a privilege to get to witness a family piecing through their history and their present to try to create a desirable future,” Feral said. “And to see them working together to do it, even though it can be hard and they don’t agree on everything. I feel so thankful that I have been here to witness it, and I’m excited to see what else comes.”

Hollowell said that in thinking about legacies and inheritances, it’s about picking up where her ancestors left off and continuing that work.

“What will be the legacy of this investment that my parents are making, that I’m making in the land? What will that look like in a hundred years? What will that look like for my great-grandchildren? For me, that’s legacy,” she added.

‘The Promised Land’

This project has also caused Hollowell to think about what can be healed through her interaction with the land and how that is different to how her grandparents and great-grandparents related to the land, she said.

“I think about the fact that my grandfather passed away when my father was 9 years old. This is not someone I ever had the opportunity to meet. I’ve heard a few stories, and I’ve seen a couple of pictures, but it’s him that I hear most clearly in this journey,” Hollowell said.

To take the foundation that her ancestors have built for her and maintain that foundation is how she wants to honor them and give them the afterlife they deserve. Even if she’s unclear what the future holds for her family’s land, it makes no difference, she said.

Annette Hollowell and Big Mama Annie Hollowell getting down on the dance floor to the band Wolfeagle at one of Foxfire’s Sunday evening blues concerts.
Annette Hollowell (left) and Big Mama Annie Hollowell get down on the dance floor to the band Wolfeagle at one of Foxfire’s Sunday evening blues concerts in Marshall County in north Mississippi. Photograph by Deke Rivers

“My parents have done their share in building out the infrastructure that exists now. My role is to maintain that infrastructure, to add to that infrastructure and to expand the networks of people that know of this as a resource for lovers of justice, for artists, for organizers and people in the South,” she said.

Hollowell said the promised land for Black people means having autonomous spaces, where people are able to be free, feel safe and have everything they need.

“It looks like beautiful, healthy land spaces wherever we are, that we have places that we can go to. We have places for sanctuary. That we have spaces where people can rest, where people can build, where people can strategize, where people can bring their whole families, their whole selves,” Hollowell said.

She describes being an artist from Mississippi as a collective communicable identity. It means bringing people with you and doing the work to reflect the times we live in.

“I think being an artist from Mississippi provides a particular responsibility to hold that history, hold those narratives and hold the realities of where we come from and also still hold a hopefulness and a trust in where we come from,” she added.

Visit Christina McField’s website at christinamcfield.com, FoxFire Ranch on Facebook and Sipp Culture at sippculture.org

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