Food, Sex & Death is a series of work and performance project inspired by my research on the the history of the women who worked as sex workers in the location of The Papermaker's Garden at the turn of the 20th Century until the mid-80s.
In that space, I grow fibers to make art, and collect and rename seeds reflecting this untold history. The work weaves together the stories of four Chicago sex workers found in a historical database, Mary Blood, the founder of Columbia College Chicago and a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Hull House Wage Map study workers, who collected information on the brothels, and myself as a worker in the same location.
A New Conscience and an An Ancient Evil by Jane Addams lays bare the race and class problematics of the anti-prostitution movement. At the same time, Hull House workers studied the Papermaker's Garden area where many Italian, Irish and Eastern European immigrants worked at prostitutes. In their wage map research, Hull House workers could not determine wages for these women, or whether they were free at all. But they did mark the location on their maps with white boxes, a ghostly bookmark in what would become a future debate for “sex work is work.”
Menu from Food, Sex & Death in The Papermaker’s Garden, 2016 Front: Letterpress on handmade potato vine paper Back: Inkjet on handmade potato vine paper 5 x 7 inches
Handmade paper (sunflower and corn stalk), ink 80 x 36 inches (each)
Food, Sex & Death performance in the Papermaker's Garden.
Food, Sex & Death event in the Papermaker's Garden.
Letterpress printing paper with fiber from Fresh Press, Illinois.
Sex Work Is Work: an intake log of all the paper grown for my artwork in the Papermaker’s Garden considering the history of the 65 brothels identified by Hull House wage map workers in that location. The offset edition included is a four-part narrative based on research conducted at the Hull House, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, The Chicago Homicide Database, and Columbia College Chicago archives.
My Country is the World
My Country is the World is an interdisciplinary "feminist psychogeography" exploration of the untold experiences of two radically different women in the context of the Bosnian War.
For more than 15 years, I have traveled over and over again to what is known as the Former Yugoslavia returning as if on some kind of homing instinct. Two days before I left for a Fulbright in Bosnia, I found a handful of letters my grandmother and I wrote to a woman we sponsored in a refugee camp in 1995. In 2015, I was reunited with this woman twice in her repatriated village which had been ethnically cleansed and turned into a rape camp during the Bosnian War.
Personal archives, paintings and academic lectures by my grandmother on Virginia Woolf's feminist pacifism are combined with war reportage and repatriation projects in Bosnia to animate a conversation on women in war, trauma, and overcoming.
Early writings during my time in Bosnia can be found on Gender Assignment here.
The letter I wrote in 1995, being read by her nephew at her home in Grapska.
Like Other Girls Do
Like Other Girls Do is a film by Melissa Potter shot on location in Montenegro and Serbia.
Stana Cerović was born in a tiny village in Montenegro to a family without boys. She sacrificed marriage and children to dress and live like a man. Stana wishes to be remembered in the family graveyard as her father’s son. Yet hardly anyone lives in the village anymore, and there is no mason to carve Stana’s name in stone. In Belgrade, Serbia are five young women--a bus driver, drag king, student, printmaker, and graffiti artist. They reveal different ideas about sacrifice, personal choice, identity, joy, and remembrance. How will Stana be remembered in this new world?
U.S. premiere of Potter's film, Like Other Girls Do at the Reeling LGBT International Film Festival
Stana Cerović, the film subject poses with a photograph of herself dressed as a man. Photo: Melissa Hilliard Potter
Collaborator, apprentice, assistant, fabricator—this project considers the unacknowledged labors that make major artworks possible. Pink bookmarks printed with historical research and transparent pages depicting the work of these invisible makers challenge our notions of authorship in the art history tome, Gardner's Art Through the Ages. The book is covered in pink handmade paper made by the artist.
The book was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in conjunction with the Kerry James Marshall Mastry exhibition.