Sandalwood and Memory of Place
My time here at Box Jelly and Fishcake has continued to be inspiring. During a meeting last month with collaborators to discuss an upcoming performance, I ran the concept by Maura Fujihira. She immediately had two simple questions that completely changed the direction of the work. The piece I was working on, Cleanse, is a performance of an act of mourning that involved me cleaning and washing a space in Ward Warehouse, as a final act of nurture and gratitude before it would be torn down. Maura asked: “What soap will you be using?” and “What will you be wearing?” In that moment, I had assumed that what I would be wearing would be something white but hadn’t thought beyond that. I also wasn’t confident in my decision for a dress. I discussed my options with Maura and was much more confident in my choice at the end.
In terms of the soap, I had originally thought that I would use an African Black Soap I had procured from a natural product shop in Nigeria the last time I was there. My reasoning for this was that the piece, Cleanse was a way for me to mourn my mother who passed away in Nigeria when I was a child. While describing the decision to Maura, I recognized that I felt no particular connection to the soap itself aside from the fact that it was from a shop in Nigeria. I didn’t immediately decide to change the soap, but it stayed in the back of mind. It was a very important part of the performance and as such, it was important that it also had a strong connection to the piece itself. That night, the conversation with Maura came to mind again. She is quite intuitive and sensitive in an ethereal way. Something about her choice of the question lingered. I fell asleep that night thinking that I needed better intention in the decision of the soap used for Cleanse.
The next day, my videographers and I went on a site visit of the space to plan the performance. After our meeting, I mindfully strolled about all of Ward Warehouse to prepare myself for the performance. Lost in thought towards the very end of my walk, I came upon Island Soap & Candle Works. Walking in, I met the owners and their lovely young adult children, Kimo and Tiare. Both had grown up knowing the family business in Ward Warehouse. They told me of the countless hours they spent as children in the space watching their parents work. Tiare had no memories of the family business not being located in Ward Warehouse. Both expressed feeling sad about the closing of the space but also looked forward to the next phase of the business they had watched their parents build and were themselves also helping develop. The family not only sold soaps and candles in the space; they also created their products in the back of the Ward Warehouse space. Kimo and Tiare showed me the new series of soaps they were working on – beautiful decadent pieces carefully crafted from a complex combination of soaps that rivaled pastries in any French patisserie. It was apparent that they loved what they did and unmistakable that they grew up working in the field. I decided at that moment to describe my project to them and ask for a recommendation on a soap.
Sandalwood – ‘iliahi in Hawaiian – has a strong influence on the history of Hawaii. Six high-quality species of the tree once grew so abundantly on the islands that the Chinese referred to the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandalwood Mountains. Through the foreign trade of Sandalwood – Hawaii’s first major export – King Kamehameha I was able to procure weapons in which to aid in his conquering and unifying of the islands. That trade lasted between 1790 and 1825. On August 1st, 2017, I bought two barsof Cedar Sage Sandalwood soap from Island Soap & Candle Works at the suggestion of local soap makers, Kimo and Tiare. Both bars were made in Ward Warehouse. They were made of natural ingredients, had a neutral aesthetic, and carried a beautiful faint fragrance of sandalwood. I used one of them in my performance of Cleanse on August 2nd, 2017 to scrub the walls and floors of Ward Warehouse. I intend to use the second bar in a second performance at BoxJelly + Fishcake during my exhibit. As this second piece develops, I will share more.