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Renovating Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Local Artist Takes Back Slave Images In Public Piece

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Renovating Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Artist Ife Franklin poses with her work “Project #4: Slave Cabin, Praise House and Ring Shout” in the background.

Ife Franklin is a powerhouse artist. For more than 25 years she has toiled as a creator and activist, focusing primarily on West African adire dyeing techniques. “Ife Franklin’s Indigo Project #4: Slave Cabin, Praise House and Ring Shout” debuts at Franklin Park, 1 Circuit Drive, this Sunday, Sept. 10 and will be on view for one week, through Sept. 15.

Artisans assist in assembling Ife Franklin’s slave-cabin-inspired project.


To learn more about the artist, visit:

For Franklin, the project is personal. The inspiration came to her in a dream. “The project is a direct gift from the old souls that were enslaved, so they can have healing,” she says. Funded by a New England Foundation for the Arts Creative City Grant, the cabin is free and open to the public.

As the political situation in the United States becomes increasingly hostile, Franklin seeks peace. In a reference to the Charlottesville rally, she says, “For every incident like that we need to build a cabin. The cabin represents freedom. The cabin represents love.”

Flipped narrative

Franklin’s cabin burns the victim narrative to the ground. “My ancestors didn’t just live in misery,” she says. “They had joy and self-love and that’s how they survived.” She’s taken a conversation that’s uncomfortable and made it accessible and positive. Half of the new cabin will be made in adire and half will include space for visitors to write notes to their ancestors.

The first iteration of the cabin now resides in the permanent collection of the Fitchburg Art Museum. It’s a fully three-dimensional structure, made entirely of fabrics dyed with traditional indigo processes. For the latest version, Franklin taught classes on dyeing at the First Church in Roxbury, with the finished fabrics donated back into the artwork.

The conversation around the piece is just as important to the work as the physical structure and the dyeing process. Franklin recalls the dialogues and relationships that emerged during her dyeing classes. For her, seeing that connection happen across a span of different communities was as much a work of art as a painted canvas.

The celebration on Sept. 10 will include food, community conversation and a ring shout, a spiritual ritual practiced by slaves wherein people move in a circle stomping feet, clapping hands and shouting or praying aloud. Franklin encourages guests to wear all white, and to bring flowers or dessert to share with others.

“All these different people come together and develop these wonderful organic relationships,” says Franklin. “I want people to feel love and connection.”

Event times 3pm-7pm Franklin Park, The Valley Gates Parking Lot, Circuit Drive and Glen Lane, 02121

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