Amid this ongoing moment of pandemic and uprising, Diya Vij and Theodore (ted) Kerr’s collaborative mail art project MOURN ON THE 4th of JULY creates much-needed space for collective mourning and exchange. Rejecting the celebration of so-called “Independence Day,” the organizers ask, “What would it mean if people came together to name and mourn the premature death and suffering endured in the name of a nation?” As they explain, “We reject patriotic fanfare during historic suffering as a brutal result of United States militarism in the creation, preservation, and proliferation of the nation-state, within its armed borders and beyond.”
Also inspired by Indigenous artist Demian DinéYazhi’s “POZ SINCE 1492″ (2016), the project features a postcard designed by artist Virgil B/G Taylor of fag tips and the What Would An HIV Doula Do? collective. One side of the postcard is completely black, while the other features spaces for a recipient’s address and a stamp, along with a timeline in white and red text. Counting from July 4, 2020, it notes the number of days since the National Guard was called in Minneapolis, the days since the Worlds Health Organization declared COVID-19 an international health emergency, and the days since Christopher Columbus “signed a contract to find the ‘Indies,’” which began the genocide of First Nations people and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Printed along the postcard’s vertical axis are the words “Freedom isn’t free in the USA,” encouraging donations to bail funds assisting those arrested at protests across the country.
Moving responses from artists, writers, and organizers nationwide are archived on the project’s website. Some enact the destruction of the object: artist Christopher Udemezue, organizer Abdul-Aliy A Muhammad, and arts administrator Erin Bagley all document burning the postcard, with Udemezue etching “BURN IT DOWN” on the back before setting it aflame. In Corona, Queens, members of group Mujeres en Movimiento ripped the postcard and, while masked, danced to Ana Tijoux’s “Antipatriarca” and Las Cafeteras’s “La Bamba Rebelde,” photographing an intergenerational circle of open palms holding the pieces. Curator Jasmine Wahi, too, ripped up the postcard, but only after making 89 scratches symbolic of the 89,119 days since July 4th, 1776. These gestures counter violent erasures, but also conjure rebuilding and sharing.
Other responses are physically additive: Educator Tamara Oyola Santiago paints a silver spiral; poet Joey De Jesus pens a note to their friend Leila Ortiz, also in silver, “Write so in the next life you might recognize sameness”; and curator Alex Fialho collages various artworks, including a part of Kota Ezawa’s “National Anthem (Buffalo Bills)” (2018). Etchings and texts in various postcards emphasize physical mark-making and play with legibility. Some of the postcards documented on the site are placed in relation to an environment: producer Molly Pearson’s postcard is shown in front of an empty pedestal which once supported a statue of Christopher Columbus, while artist Shaun Leonardo’s postcard, inscribed “La Libertad no es gratis en Los Estados Unidos,” is held up in front of an open field.
MOURN ON THE 4th of JULY adds to a rich legacy of mail and postcard projects by artists like On Kawara, and feels especially poignant when many forms of intimacy and exchange remain limited.. Insisting on collective and collaborative authorship, the project rejects singularity as it archives a “networked circulation of feelings and ideas.” Framed by connected historical legacies and encouraging action, the hope and rage conjured by MOURN ON THE 4th of JULY will remain useful as we continue facing death, unrest, and change together.
See MOURN ON THE 4th of JULY for the growing archive.