Dionne Lee, A Test For 40 Acres - Full Image

A Test for 40 Acres

Dionne Lee


Listen to Audio Commentary




10 x 8”


Archival Inkjet Print


In A Test for Forty Acres, the artist has covered a rectangular patch of land on a hillside in mylar emergency blankets. The wide expanse of open sky is now captured in a swath of shimmery mirror, an illusion of freedom. Although the natural world is “traditionally presented as a refuge, a space of peak contentment and peace,” the artist writes, “[it is] also a place of violence and alienation.” The title of the work references Union general William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 from 1865, which decreed that formerly enslaved persons would be granted reparations “of not more than forty acres of tillable ground,” from within an area of 400,000 acres stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John's River in Florida. President Andrew Johnson overturned the directive later that year, and returned most of the land to its prior owners. The blankets of Lee’s Test make up a small and ephemeral fraction of the foothold promised and then denied to those who suffered under the crimes of slavery.