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Sally Hemings and Marisa Williamson are headed to Paris to create a short film exploring their past, present, and future.
Sally Hemings and Marisa Williamson are headed to Paris to create a short film exploring their past, present, and future.
184 backers pledged $8,336 to help bring this project to life.

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Sally and I are headed to Paris! With your support, we will create a short film, a surreal reimagining of the historical, personal, and perennial narrative of a young woman, struggling to decide whether to claim her freedom in a foreign land, or return home, bound for posterity to one powerful man and the history of a nation.

Your pledge will go toward funding twelve days of exploration, art-making, and survival in Paris! It will pay for the hiring of fellow artists to help with the project. It will ensure my ability to get around and get what I need in a European city. And, it will allow this project to be the best it can be: complete, effective, well-made, and unforgettable!

Who is Sally Hemings?

Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson's slave and, according to most historians, mistress of almost thirty years. The relationship is thought to have begun in Paris while Jefferson was serving there as ambassador and Hemings was a servant in the Jefferson home. They had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood. All four of Sally Hemings' children were freed, in accordance with a promise her son Eston says was made to his mother by his father, at the age of twenty-one or soon thereafter.

Sally Hemings was the daughter of Elizabeth Hemings, who was a slave in the home of John Wayles--Martha Wayles Jefferson's father. Sally Hemings was the daughter of the white slaveowner, John Wayles and his slave. She was, as a result, the half sister of Thomas Jefferson's late wife, Martha.

Brochure (2013)
Brochure (2013)

Why this work?

I have been working with the character of Sally Hemings for a year. The work is rooted in an interest in museological and art industrial space, memory and its opposite, race, gender, sex, labor, and love through a historical lens. The performances at the core of this project, ‘What Would Sally Do’ and ‘Auction,’ involved singing karaoke, eating chicken, and going for a run at Monticello as Hemings, and auctioning of handmade items that would have been made by her for Jefferson. The performances address the aforementioned interests as they pertain to the my life: a modern life existing as it does as a consequence of known and unknown literal and figurative ancestors.

Image from 'Auction' performance (2013)
Image from 'Auction' performance (2013)
Image from 'Patchwork Narrative' performance (2013)
Image from 'Patchwork Narrative' performance (2013)

Why a film?

I wanted to take Sally on the road, and create a film that speaks to the legacy of film and facilitates the collapsing of the past and present both in content and form. I'm drawn by tropes of avant-garde and popular cinema, especially those related to Paris, nostalgia, the gaze, and narrative. As always, the black body in space, in time, and out of context fascinates me.

Risks and challenges

There are risks and challenges in this project as in any creative endeavor. I am counting on human resources--people with expertise and equipment. I've already secured half of a solid team of artists who know their craft and have proven to be reliable in the past. Your support will enable me to hire the best, most accountable people for the job! Traveling abroad is always an exercise in patience, flexibility, crisis-management, and problem-solving. But, I'm not a naive adventurer! I've been exploring Europe since I was thirteen, and I have faith in my resourcefulness as a woman of the world. I'm doing the hard work of mapping out the process, creating a detailed vision for the project, researching, and learning new skills. You can count on me to use this opportunity to the fullest! I will bring the entirety of my passion and creativity to bear, and I will work hard and smart to make something we can share pride in having produced together!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    A social media shout-out and a 'Thank you' in the film's credits

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    A picture postcard with a personal note from Sally Hemings, sent from Paris

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    The 11" x 17", 'Hemings in Paris' poster

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    The 'Slave to a Narrative' tote bag -- Enjoy the 'Slave to a Narrative' screen print, transferred to a practical canvas tote

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    The 52" x 52" cotton voile 'Slave to a Narrative' scarf -- Enjoy the 'Slave to a Narrative' screen print, transferred to this large and luxurious cotton scarf

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    The Sally Hemings Cookbook + The 'Slave to a Narrative' tote bag -- The Sally Hemings Cookbook is a limited edition zine, a scrapbook and repository of thoughts and recipes inspired by Sally Hemings' life at Monticello and in Paris, as well as old and not so old Williamson family gems.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    A 16" x 20" acrylic on canvas painting by Marisa Williamson + The 11" x 17", 'Hemings in Paris' poster

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Executive Producer credit + A copy of the 'Hemings in Paris' Film + A painting by Marisa Williamson + The Sally Hemings Cookbook + The 'Slave to a Narrative' scarf + The 'Slave to a Narrative' tote bag + The 'Hemings in Paris' poster + A picture postcard from Paris -- The Executive Producer package is the complete package!

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Funding period

- (25 days)