Home & Design

By day, visitors experience the structure up close.

Erasure poetry embellishes the stain-less steel panels.

The commemorative sits atop land that once belonged to the slaveholding Mackall-Broome Plantation. At night it is illuminated, throwing the poetry into relief.

Sacred Ground

An art installation lends visibility and voice to Southern Maryland’s enslaved peoples

Before construction began on the Jamie L. Roberts Stadium in 2016, St. Mary’s College of Maryland embarked on an excavation of the site—and uncovered evidence of slave quarters that predated the college. “Even though I knew there was that history in Southern Maryland, it gave me pause,” reflects St. Mary’s president Tuajuanda C. Jordan, the first Black woman to serve in that role. “It put us on this path to understand our history and lend voices to people who were here before.” With help from CODAworx, a network that promotes public art by connecting artists and designers with creative opportunities, St. Mary’s College commissioned a commemorative for the site. In 2020, Absence to Presence, Commemorating Contributions of Enslaved Peoples was born.

The brainchild of Houston design firm RE:Site, this immersive art installation stands beside the now-completed stadium, compelling passersby to stop and experience it. The structure rises from a spot where slave quarters once stood—a reimagined slave house clad in a staggered pattern of ipe clapboard and highly reflective stainless steel. Erasure poetry, which recasts existing written materials by removing selected words, utilizes 243 runaway-slave advertisements that have been etched into the steel panels; composed by poet Quenton Baker, the words impose powerful new meaning on their hateful source.

“We envisioned this private space—the only one in the lives of enslaved peoples—as a symbol of resilience, determination and persistence,” says Norman Lee, who collaborated on the project with RE:Site cofounder Shane Albritton. Visit smcm.edu/commemorative

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