Stan Squirewell / Seph Rodney
Stan Squirewell asked a seemingly simple question at the start of his project Flight of the Jamerican (2016), a series of vinyl cutouts strategically placed on the ground in the 165th Street Mall in Jamaica, Queens: “When you are not at home what gives you comfort?”. For the purposes of this piece, Squirewell defines home as the place where one’s ancestors originate. He began his work suspecting that our ways of imagining our relationship to the universe that are handed down through ritualized traditions — belief systems, religious, emotional and spiritual practices — give people a sense of rootedness and reassurance.
To find his answers from real individuals, Squirewell canvassed people passing through the mall on 165th street. He created full interviews with twelve people, then narrowed his focus to two men, Joe and Kareem, a writer and a street vendor. He chose these men because Joe and Kareem are gifted with great life stories and the skill to convey these narratives to Squirewell. Joe migrated from Ghana to the States because of his wanderlust and his desire for better economic circumstances. Kareem grew up in the area, but his parents are from Haiti. Both have families in Queens and are striving to make ends meet, and both wear a symbolic piece of jewelry that, according to Squirewell, is used for protection and guidance. These symbols evoke the religious systems shared by many in the community in Jamaica: the Yoruba religion, Candomblé, Vodun, Santería, Christianity, and Kemetism. Understanding the pertinence of these emblems sent Squirewell on a research mission to find the varied ways these beliefs are represented by varied objects. Flight of the Jamerican essentially remakes Joe and Kareem’s photographic images into fusions of multiple iconic representations of traditions that have flowed through their families for generations.
Squirewell has built his multimedia practice on working with issues of identity and location, or rather, self-recognition. He is interested in the mechanisms we use to place ourselves in a specific place in culture, and thus give ourselves a name: Haitian, Creole, Jamaican, Jamerican. Unexpectedly, the iconography he developed has simultaneously reduced his subjects to hieroglyphic characters and raised them up to transcendent beings. They are poetic warrior-angels, priests of hidden sciences and secret powers that represent an ancestral connection that is strong and sure. Squirewell has made their inheritances, stories, and beliefs visible, taken down from the astral plane to dwell on the ground beneath the feet of passersby in a mall in Queens.