HBCU-SMITAH Keynote, My Body Remembers: A Conversation on Materials and Memory

A black-and-white photograph of a man from the chest up. He wears a collared shirt and a suit jacket, along with round, tortoise-shell glasses. He looks at the camera with a serious expression.

Felandus Thames. Photo: James Patterson

The keynote for the 2023 Historically Black Colleges and Universities Students and Mentors Institute in Technical Art History (HBCU-SMITAH), this conversation between artist Felandus Thames, M.F.A. 2010, and author Kiese Laymon broaches issues of materiality and the preservation of the tangible and intangible. The materials Thames chooses—whether hairbrushes, hair beads, shoelaces, or oil paint—are loaded with history, joy, pain, and trauma, functioning as “surrogates to contested histories and lived experiences of those who consume them.” The artist is joined in conversation by Kiese Laymon, the Libbie Shearn Moody Professor of Creative Writing and English at Rice University, Houston, and a 2022 MacArthur Fellow. Thames’s work has been featured in the Venice Biennale and the Art in Embassies program of the U.S. Department of State. He is a current Harpo Foundation fellow. Generously sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Yale University Art Gallery’s Martin A. Ryerson Lectureship Fund.