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Miao Jiaxin

first performed on September 07, 2020
Lower Manhattan: Federal Hall, New York Stock Exchange, Broadway, and African Burial Ground
performed once in 2020


Dr. Joy Brooke Fairfield, Ak Jansen, and Sabura Rashid



“ABSCONDED :: #UnpaidLaborDay’’ inaugurated my bronze living statue performance as Ona “Oney” Judge, Martha Washington’s runaway body servant/seamstress slave who evaded two attempts at capture, lived to her 80’s, but died an impoverished fugitive. The piece challenges ubiquitous monumental deification of slave owners and colonizers, while pondering Black freedom as perpetual fugitivity. Envisioned before the George Floyd uprisings, then delayed by COVID–summer outdoors was the opportunity to bring durational street theater to Lower Manhattan. I contribute this moving monument, ritual embodiment and public spectacle to the global reckoning of white supremacy.

A 90-minute sonic score of music, news/documentary soundbites, and voice-over as Ona Judge guides the geographic narrative. Performance began at the steps of Federal Hall in direct confrontation with the George Washington statue. “The Blood-Splattered Banner”–a remix of the national anthem with blood-curdling screams–plays before migration to the New York Stock Exchange (which is draped with an ominously large flag and the legacy of humans auctioned as stock). I point at NYPD patrol cars when the score references slave catchers. When “Snowden’s Negro Jig” (Carolina Chocolate Drops) plays in the score, Ona does a slow, somber shuffle in honor of whatever moments of joy she and other ancestors could snatch within forced servitude.

The procession ventures out of Wall Street, up Broadway, passes St. Paul’s Chapel and City Hall, and concludes at the African Burial Ground. The timed score corresponds to specific locations: a hypnotic loop of Ruby Dee repeating “Broadway” as we promenade up the avenue; narration of Ona’s final interview about the Washingtons’ fraudulent spiritual life while passing the church that designated his pew. Overall, Ona is dazed by 21st century NYC.

But the spontaneous moments proved most impactful as an artist as well as for spectators. Ona encounters an unhoused woman and offers a hand–but, as a statue, no words. The woman offers to pray for me. Ona nods to intrigued and perplexed blue-collar workers, and feels the ghosts of revolution at Zucotti Park. At City Hall Park, she stands with a boombox in quiet defiance to three parked NYPD moped cops. The remix of Adam Clayton Powell IV’s impassioned demand to respect the dead prompts them to peel off one by one. Just before reaching the African Burial Ground monument, Ona tries to engage the museum security guard through the window, who insists on pretending that I/Ona and the crowd are non-existent as he chews his gum and looks away.