SIP Series: Peter Hennigan and Lynae Rockwell

Any decent SIP for the history department must contain at least a fair amount of “blood, sweat and tears,” in accordance with Dr. Jay Green’s favorite recipe.  As senior History major Peter Hennigan investigates inter-racial conflict during the Harlem Renaissance, he has discovered that this is true in more ways than one.

In his 30 page SIP, Hennigan uncovers evidence of blatant discrimination and dissention between African-American and West Indian cultures living in Harlem during the 1920s and 30s through their songs, literature, speeches, statistics and other sources.  His claim counteracts the popular view that both groups unified to portray a new African identity.

“Today, when you have so much race talk, I wanted to show that we are not solely defined by our race,” says Hennigan.

Hennigan is assessing weapons used on both sides of the firing line with derogatory lyrics penned by the established African community and the works of Claude McKay and Marcus Garvey, West-Indian literary and political figures.  Typically, immigrants from Jamaica and nearby islands were wealthier than inhabitants of the existing community, broadening the gap between the distantly related cultures.  African Americans in Harlem, according to Hennigan, desired to “hold on to their identity” and distinguish themselves from the front of newcomers.

“I found this as an interesting story that hadn’t been completely told,” says Hennigan.  Likewise, he was intrigued that he could use historical background to propose answers to present-day cultural issues.

“Do we do history for the love of history,” he asks, “or can we draw from it?”  

When initially viewing Lynae Rockwell’s SIP, a mixed-media table studded with at least 13,800, gold, upward-pointing tacks, one does not get the impression that it is a hospitable place to pull up a chair for a midday snack.  However, due to the even spacing and sheer number of the tacks, one can rest their hand on the prickly surface without receiving any puncture wounds.  According to Rockwell, the dualistic sensation given off by the piece accurately describes both the pain and support one can receive during discussions around the table.

“In my family, life happens around the table,” she says, “It is one of the most important places in the house.”  Like most important locations, however, it does not only bring to mind the best memories.  According to Rockwell, along with the pleasant conversations, pointed words could also be served with a side of regret. “I hate thinking about some of the conversations I’ve had with my parents around the table,” she says.  However, the table has remained with her as a poignant image of fellowship.

As suggested by a clipping of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper above Rockwell’s workspace, her piece also alludes to the Communion table.  She says that the fellowship we experience as Christians was only possible through Christ’s agony on the cross.  “The table is important to me as a Christian, as it is also a place to take the cup and the bread without fear.  All the pain and suffering Christ has experienced has made it possible to lay our burdens on the table.”

Rockwell’s piece will be featured in the Gather exhibit in the Kresge Memorial Gallery beginning on April 1, and she hopes that the piece will serve as “a place for reflection and interaction where people can bring their own thoughts to the table.”