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Postcard Book: The Ghost of Thomas Jefferson, 2018, 6” x 4”, book with 24 images, edition of 150. Photos by Gabby Fuller. Courtesy of the Artist
In her work, Marisa Williamson brings the dead back to life by literally embodying their spirits. “I want to make history alive in people’s worlds,” said Williamson in a 2015 interview with Studio International.
In 2018, Williamson dressed up in early 19th century men’s clothing and painted her face and all visible body parts white. She proceeded to wander around the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The photographer Gaby Fuller followed the artist, taking the twenty-four photographs that appear in the publication Postcard Book: The Ghost of Thomas Jefferson. At the time, Williamson was an artist-in-residence at the university, which was founded 1819 by Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States. Williamson’s role-play was inspired by an almost life-size statue of Jefferson by Alexander Galt located on the campus. What if this were not a static statue but a roving one? Williamson’s reckoning with Jefferson was long overdue, as his specter previously haunted her work. Several years prior, she had begun embodying Sally Hemmings, the enslaved woman who was Jefferson’s mistress and mother to six of his children.
For Williamson, it was important to present these photographs as postcards. “There is something about producing and disseminating a greeting from a particular location, sending a message to someone who is not there, creating an urgent work in a mobile form that feels very relevant to our times,” said Williamson in recent interview with The Print Center’s curator Ksenia Nouril. Here, Postcard Book: The Ghost of Thomas Jefferson is presented as a flipbook, narrated by its extensive captions, as well as a gallery comprising its constituent images.