The North Wind and the Sun is an engagement with and articulation of the impact of globalized economies upon and into existent historical political, and social situations in a community in significant transition both economically and demographically – much like the United States as a whole. It is an interrogation of what meaning can be made of home when home is a distant place in ever-shifting territory.
In 1986, the Townsends poultry processing plant opened in my hometown, Siler City, North Carolina, followed by a clash along the border of culture and language as Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan workers – in many cases recruited across the border by the poultry industry – in-migrated to this town. Tension over immigration reached a critical point in 2000 when David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was invited by a local White Supremacist to lead an anti-immigration rally on the steps of Town Hall. This project unpacks the power dynamics at play within the embedded systems of economics, politics, and structuralized racism, while investigating what took place from the plant’s opening, subsequent 2010 filing for bankruptcy, 2011 purchasing of the company by then 35-year-old Ukrainian billionaire, Oleg Bakhmatyuk, and abrupt closing of the plant on October 1st, 2011.
Two weeks after the closing of Townsends/Omtron – an event that eliminated over 1200 jobs in addition to the primary income of 200 farmers – the Town announced it had rebranded under the slogan, “Delightfully Unexpected”. The branding compares Siler City, whose population is more than 50% Latino, and almost 20% African American to the fictional town of Mayberry (population 98% White), from The Andy Griffith Show television series, which was set in the late 1960s. Aunt Bee, a character in the show is featured as the Town mascot. In a town that is more than 50% Latino and more than 15% African American, where police driver’s license checkpoints targeting Latinos are conducted with such frequency that an underground text messaging network has been established to alert Latino residents, the Town’s attempt to brand the “authentic” is one aspect of my larger research.
Mining my personal history and that of my chicken-farming family is a method of engaging with and reacting to an industry in order to peel back its veneer, revealing networks, power, desire, and histories that combine with historical and contemporary issues of race, immigration, and agribusiness. In this complex narrative, blame may easily be cast at specific individuals and corporations, as well as at the cultural conditions that permit such a situation. By problematizing the casting of blame, The North Wind and the Sun, questions for the viewer around truth, choice, and self-implication.
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It has been an amazing and emotional ride to encounter Cathy McLaurin‘s works dealing with her hometown of Siler City, NC. From my first experience in a studio space in the Howard Art Project, to last year’s larger performance at the Boston Center for the Arts, I am always taken aback by the complex systems of identification that are revealed by her works and the discussions that follow.
I strongly believe that Cathy’s presence facilitates the most interesting of these moments.