Tonya Foster

Artist Statement

There is the genealogical record: I come from Spencer and Barbara, who is the youngest surviving daughter-child of Joseph and Cardella, who was the youngest surviving daughter-child of Israel and Annie, who as a child had been enslaved. Annie, who within 15 years of the end of Civil War was listed on the 1880 Census Record in Belle Alliance, Louisiana as living with four or five generations of relatives on land the family still owns. When I first came across the names of relatives in the census record, I cried for what I imagined they imagined, what they may well have anticipated—iterations beyond their moment—Cardella, Noni, Barbara, Tonya, and on. Imagining their imagining was like overhearing a prayer. I am a child of people who pray for me, of people who prayed for me before I was, whose prayers situate me and situate in me all feelings of home. But prayer without works is a fleshless wish. So they left behind land and attended readings, and even in 1880 were schooling their children and imagining what might be. Prayer is a convergence of absence and will. A poem is a kind of prayer. I write poems.

While at Headlands

While at Headlands, I will complete a draft of A Mathematics of Chaos, a collection of poems and prose pieces that revolves around New Orleans and notions of home, family, and displacement. In this work, I explore the personal through an interrogation of social, political, and cultural contexts. I’m interested in sound and light, and how language reckons with experiences of sound and light in one defined location. During my time at Headlands, I will write new work and revise earlier drafts. As Mathematics of Chaos will include images (photos and video stills) of pre-and post-Katrina and contemporary New Orleans life that will serve as points of both ekphrastic departure from and ekphrastic exploration of personal and cultural histories of the 300-year-old south-of-the-south city. I will select the central images from digitized family videos and photographs.

Artist banner image by Erica Kaufman