Inner Child: Antwaun Sargent on DavidShrobe’s
“Tight Ship”As told to Souleo
One striking thing about Shrobe’s work is, it’s an assemblage of different materials, a construction of a ship that parallels the making of say, one’s identity. A process that starts during childhood, picks up steam as it responds to history and the everyday, and matures until death. In this sense, “Tight Ship,” is reflective of the ways I sought to understand largely through books, my own identity.
The title, “Tight Ship,” alludes to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the voyage that continues to shape America. The work evokes the ways slavery and the laws and attitudes that maintain white supremacy marks my life nearly four centuries later. As a kid, I read obsessively about the black American experience. I collected over 400 books—reading, for instance, James Baldwin to try to understand the intersectionality at the heart of my experience, reciting Edgar Allan Poe poems with friends as a way to understand the power of the words that too often presented inaccurate descriptions of my skin and the hues of those in the community I love. I also read Angela Davis, Benjamin Franklin, John Locke and Audre Lorde, taking notes in the columns of their books, trying, like Shrobe, to fit desperate pieces together, I wanted to make whole. I was trying, in my own way, to add heft to the materiality of black life. I read, Henry Louis Gates’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man,” and after, I remember turning over in my head, questions about gender, representation and visibility. These are questions that I pondered from at least age five when in school I was made aware that I was born black, gay and poor.
To me, Shrobe’s piece also evokes water and the idea of a ship as a container, for not only things, but also identities, bodies, and blackness. Looking back, I was trying to build, by amassing knowledge, a kind of container that could hold my black body and protect it as it traverses unsteady seas, which is not unlike Shrobe’s ship.
Antwaun Sargent is a writer (NY Times, The New Yorker, VICE and more).
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]