New France was the name of the territory stretching from New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River (including parts of Kansas and Missouri) to Canada during the French colonial period (16th-18th centuries). Louis XV was the king of France during this later period, and in 1724 at the age of 13, he signed into effect the second version of the Code Noir. This ‘black code’ consolidated the French legal framework concerning slavery in North America, restricting the rights of enslaved and free blacks and outlining the religious entitlements of all French subjects. The painted texts in the wallpaper are from this regulatory decree. The pixelated objects depicted in the wallpaper are from the Nelson-Atkins Museum collection of Louis XV style furniture, objects created in a style once popular in France and roughly concurrent with this later era of French trade and settlement in Illinois Country / Upper Louisiana. Collapsing ornament and oppression, the Code Noir textual extracts combined with archival evidence of the monarchy’s finest furnishings offer an acute contrast concerning an important period in the history of Missouri.
Positioned on the background image and hanging as if slightly askew in a genuine and grand domestic space are three paintings from my ongoing series, Decorum. Decorum is an incomplete but growing index of the histories of enslaved people from antiquity to the present. Decorative and textual sources trace the complex structures that surround labor and power inequalities. My sources are frequently found in museum collections, where the museum acts as both witness and author. Archival remnants of slave narratives, ornament, and my own personal inquiries constitute an open-ended process of asking how the decorative arts participate, either actively or silently, in promoting or reflecting dominant ideologies of social hierarchy, political authority, and cultural fantasy.