Prop Master exhibition text, 2009, by Laurel Frederickson
Eight variously shaped bundles make up Susan Harbage Page’s Expressions of Affection. She formed them from Ku Klux Klan uniforms from 1920s South Carolina. Attractive fabric strips and ribbons hold each bundle in shape, with the exception of one tied with an actual rope belt worn with Klan robes. The belt’s resemblance to the kind of belt worn by monks suggests how Klan members viewed themselves as a brotherhood with a mission or vocation. Ties made from pink silk fabric, seersucker, or pink and white ribbons implicate women in Klan activities: sewing hoods and gowns, as well as cleaning, pressing, storing, and treasuring them.
To tie such activities to the slave past and the plantocracy, Page presents the bundles on elegant period furniture: a table from the Charleston Museum and four matching chairs from the Joseph Manigault Mansion. These luxurious objects once belonged to the family of Charles Pinckney, a wealthy Lowcountry planter and signer of the United States Constitution. He owned hundreds of slaves who worked his numerous rice and indigo plantations, as well as at his Charleston home on Meeting Street. Page’s installation links the slave past to the Jim Crow era and also to the present as a reminder that racism persists in many guises, even as it changes form. Provocatively, the attractive shapes of the bundles refer to decorative schemes extolled in such magazines as Southern Living or Martha Stewart Living. Displayed on platform risers painted in the color Lancaster Whitewash, the uniforms and furniture are literally propped up by whiteness in both the literal and metaphorical sense.