We are honored to be hosting Bilphena Yahwon in our space from July–August to support her research on pre-civil war Liberia, and the connections between Baltimore and Liberia. She is our second Artist-Organizer-in-Residence. Yahwon is a Baltimore-based archivist and restorative practices practitioner born in Liberia, West Africa. Her work is concerned with the uses of memory for Black folks: "how we inherit it, how we preserve it and how we pass it down."
“rememory as in recollecting and remembering as in reassembling the members of the body, the family, the population of the past,” - Toni Morrison
Yahwon writes about her research,
"It was while neck deep in the archives doing other research that I learned of this relationship between Baltimore and Liberia. Not only does the history of Liberia (as a colonial project) begin in Maryland, but Baltimore and Gbarnga, Liberia are sister cities.
After my family fled Liberia for Côte d'Ivoire, we received refugee admission to the United States in 2001. We began our American journey in Virginia and in 2006 we found our way to Baltimore. I have called Baltimore home ever since. There was something chilling and exhilarating and profound about stumbling upon this connection between my birth home and the place I now call home — a full circle of sorts. I have spent the past year attempting to map out this relationship not just with historical documents but with images as well.
While so much of archiving is personal for me, this research allows me to offer a possible missing piece for Black folks in Baltimore who may have gaps in their family albums and documents. There is a possibility that so many Black Marylanders have walking, breathing relatives in Liberia right now."
Yahwon is curator of the online library, The Womanist Reader, and is a collective member of the interdisciplinary publishing initiative, Press Press. She has recently launched Archive Liberia, a personal archival project chronicling Liberian history. This new archival journey began as a way to assist her memory and rememory.
Photo by Eboni Sellers
About this Residency Program
During the COVID-19 pandemic, WPA decided to use our gallery space as a residency to support artist-organized exchange and research. This is not WPA's first residence program—in the 1980s we had a designated apartment and studio space designed by David Ireland. More recently, following our conversion to an artist-driven program model, we shared our space with three artist mothers and their children for Artist Mother Studio, which was organized by Amy Hughes Braden in 2018.