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In a Family Way by Kehayr Brown-Ransaw

Opening Reception: Saturday, April 15th, from 6-9 PM

Exhibition Runs: April 15 - May 27, 2023

In a Family Way by Kehayr Brown-Ransaw uses archives of family photographs, legal ledgers, and intimate family conversations to challenge the white-driven ancestral paradigm of the individual and conceptualize the communal experiences of the family instead as the central narrative. Brown-Ransaw designs and makes large-scale quilts, rich in color and pattern; integrated into each design are transfers of family photographs.  These textiles are a tactile link between current diasporic experiences and those of his ancestors. The narrative is, in a sense, the life cycle of a quilt as a meditation on its historical context, both from its use as currency by enslaved women to gain access to white society and as a utilitarian comfort object. In a Family Way uses these quilts and a site-specific installation of threads twisted into ropes as a tactile link between current diasporic experiences and those of his ancestors.


He explores how anthropological and ethnographic systems of enumeration through the census and colonialist perspectives have made it so that minority communities are non-existent on paper.


Growing up, and even still, I constantly hear a pensive, “I don't know, mama didn't talk about her family; she was quite secretive.”  But what secrets were held out of love and safety. Marked by mixed-raced identity, fair skin, and Carolinian/Appalachian accents, the census reveals a sort of trauma that came along. Condemned by the enumerators' eyeball test, races changed from year to year swaying between white, mulatto, and negro/colored/Black. This work was essentially a meditation on my mother going back to my 2x great-grandmother, Ann Kinnes, giving me a name to call on, and grounding myself in a place and time. Reflecting on the stories told to me, contested or confirmed by legal documentation.


Abstract visual language can challenge and subvert preconceived ideas about individuals or groups of people. Brown-Ransaw embraces these histories to heal audiences through his work and redress narrowed populations. The results are objects with a sense of self as multitudes, reflecting experiences of transgenerational trauma, producing an iconology of these experiences. One of his visual touchstones is the history of his ancestral home and generations of Appalachian tree farmers. The interplay of patterns, both rigid and wild, find a foundation in the lands his family cultivated. Audiences will walk among three-ply twisted cotton ropes cascading down from the ceiling as representations of the 77 family members that Brown-Ransaw has identified thus far.  This piece is a remembrance of his grandmother’s love of the tree farm and her grief once the land was sold after four generations. This cotton rope is commonly used in agriculture for fencing, binding crops, and felling trees; the installation will evoke the groves that lined the highways of his family's land.


The works and research in this exhibit provided Brown-Ransaw an opportunity to create with his family. Often conversations begin to feel like gossip sessions but always result in a deeper feeling of knowing some truth. These experiences opened the door for communal questioning and a desire to connect with more living family members, providing a continuing narrative in the abstracted essence of visual language.


The following are short poems of reflection inspired by the process of creating this exhibit by Kehayr Brown-Ransaw:


I find myself flying backwards, slipping into spaces you remember and left behind


To know my mother and only know her name feels like not knowing myself at all, but to know my mother and know her heartbeat feels like knowing her warmth and all else is unimportant


The Blood flows so freely here and yet nowhere at all.


She has never belonged to me more than the day she left us


The hollowed reservoir of my heart rings loud, vexed with a child’s inconsolable desire for an absent memory Tucked as though It were nettles in the grass.


Kehayr Brown-Ransaw is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and curator. Brown-Ransaw’s current practice engages in conversations of familial histories, gendered work, self/government documentation, and Black identity through quilting and printmaking—his curatorial and teaching practices center on access, representation, and the presentation of marginalized communities. Brown-Ransaw received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Furniture Design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He has exhibited work across the Twin Cities, with public works on view at Franconia Sculpture. He has received a 2023 Center for Craft Curatorial Fellowship, 2020/21 Emerging Curators Institute (ECI) Emerging Curator Fellowship, 2020/21 Jerome Early Career Fellowship, 2021 Franconia Sculpture Park Artist Fellowship Residency, and 2021 Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery Artist in Residency. He is the recipient of an FY2021 State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals grant, a 2020 Visual Arts Fund Community Relief Grant from Midway Contemporary Art on behalf of The People’s Library, and the FY2020 Next Step Fund Award from the Metro Regional Arts Council.

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