Essays: “On Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus” by Mimi Tempestt (Part 2)

After our visit to The Louvre, Alexis and I were seeing through different lenses. For me, every art museum we visited was just an ensemble of dead white men swinging their dicks in our faces. For Alexis, the art fulfilled a nostalgic memory of seeing in real-life what her younger self only witnessed in textbooks. A day prior, we had willed our way to the Palace of Versailles. The engorgement of portraits: white man after white man after white man on white horses over a mountain of dead bodies in battle. That was the final straw for me. The ‘Fons Americanus’ had deepened my already indifferent perspective on white art. It seared into my memory that whiteness, like the memorial of Queen Victoria, is a fallacy of mythic constructions turned into violent realities and histories. After the New Year, we returned to London for our last leg of the trip. I left Paris more content eating a croissant than seeing a sketch of a ballerina done by Degas. 

At Tate Britain, there were more fallacies on the walls: religious ones, historical ones, naked ones, nature ones. The fallacies of “The Masters” are putrid. Their works felt like decaying declarations of sovereignty. One that relied heavily on it’s art to reflect back it’s makeshift grandeur. One could easily become enraptured by the images, if the reflection matches the storybook account of one’s history: a Narcissus encapsulation falsely reverent to its own history of make-believe. The ‘Fons Americanus’ detailed a different kind of drowning. By the end of our trip, I sat in one room while Alexis wandered around and about. I was more apt to people-watch than observe the art.

 It was at the National Portrait Gallery, our last day of visiting museums, where I witnessed my second favorite piece. Happening in real-time: A simple kiss between an older black woman walking about the room with her baby girl. This was exciting for several reasons, one reason being that the likeliness of seeing another black person in these spaces are rare, and another reason being that witnessing the interaction of love between them transcended all the racism and erasure that hung aggressively on the walls. It was a sublime experience, one that seemed orchestrated by the universe to remind me that survival and love of kin is what supersedes the harshness of black reality. Which is another feat I believe the ‘Fons Americanus’ conquers. 

During the final dinner on the final night, we met a few of Ronny’s church friends; which consisted of a hilarious and smart Jamaican gentleman named Richard, who boasted that he could drink Alexis and I under the table. Wielding a “bullshit” his way, we took to the bottle and like perfect British drunkards began talking politics, racism, and class with an unblemished fervor. I was eager to swap stories to compare and understand how black people experience life in the UK to how it’s experienced in America. Richard didn’t hold the punches. He was witty and became more uncouth with his words as the whiskey poured heavily through us. He was brutally honest about his hardships of emigrating from Jamaica to the UK nearly 20 years prior. He wasn’t too fond of hanging out with white people unless he was getting paid, and he was proud that his wife helped him become a good man. His life story was interesting, complex, and beautiful. 

Towards the end of the night, Richard revealed that he hated the Queen, thought Prince Andrew was a “pedophilic cunt,” and described all the ways the British tabloids, with the aid of the Royal Family, slandered Meghan Markle to distract the public from Andrew’s connections with Jeffrey Epstein. Megan Markle isn’t an emblem of any blackness or womaness that I feel connected to, but after hearing how even a Duchess in the complicity and comforts of white society was a victim in upholding the fallacies, I took her struggle briefly into consideration. I thought Richard made an interesting prediction. In his thick Jamaican-British accent, index finger waving above his head, he drunkenly sputtered: 

“Mimi, I wouldn’t be surprised if she decided to leave this shit. All ​this​ shit!” 

I really didn’t consider the possibility before. I took another swig of my whiskey and responded, “And if she ​can​ leave, good for her.” 

About Mimi Tempestt

Mimi Tempestt (she/they) is a multidisciplinary artist, poet, and daughter of California. She has a MA in Literature from Mills College, and is currently a doctoral student in the Creative/Critical PhD in Literature at UC Santa Cruz. Her debut collection of poems, the monumental misrememberings, is published with Co-Conspirator Press (2020). She was chosen for participation in the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices for poetry in 2021, and is currently a creative fellow at The Ruby in San Francisco. Her works can be found in Foglifter, Apogee Journal, Interim Poetics, and The Studio Museum in Harlem