Monica McKelvey Johnson

Other Ways of Knowing

Monica McKelvey Johnson

Other Ways of Knowing

Date

2023

Edition Size

7

Media

Collage, Cyanotype, Embroidery, Fabric, Hand-sewn, Handmade paper, Ink, Risograph

Paper

handmade, mulberry

Location

Brooklyn, NY


View Collectors

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art

Harvard University, Fine Arts Library

University of Central Florida (UCF)

University Of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill

This title is on backorder and can be reserved for May/June delivery.

“Our lives changed in March 2020. Sirens were heard nonstop. The absence of my normal security created a cloud of panic. My mental health was fraying.
During lockdown in NYC I scrambled to understand what was happening, and then scrambled to figure out how to help. People needed masks. So, I made homemade masks all day, every day, which reconnected me to my sewing machine, domestic fabrics, and the feminism of mutual aid work.

A few months prior to the pandemic, I had begun therapy, one that focused on trauma and ancestral healing. At those office visits on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a certified therapist guided me through a process in which I communicated with several of the women ancestors in this book. This journey was interrupted when the stay home order started, but I was left wanting to deepen my relationship with these women.

After a few months, homemade masks weren’t needed as urgently, so I shifted focus to caring for my family’s wellbeing. I began an education in family and community herbalism that continues today. I thought a lot about native plants– in Brooklyn, where I live; in Michigan, where my ancestors settled and where I grew up; and in Lithuania and the Netherlands, where my ancestors are from. I turned to the soil for a grounding by fire-escape gardening with my four year-old, Asa. Our neighbors joined in and we transformed the back lot to a garden. We grew every herb, vegetable, and plant we could get our hands on. We learned a lot. We failed a lot.

Slowly, I began taking long walks through the forest at Prospect Park. I bought a hammock and spent hours cradled under the safety of trees. I felt protected and cared for. I started to recognize plants and trees I learned about in herbalism school. I foraged and made pine needle teas and paper from the local mulberry trees.
I wondered why we—the larger “we”—stopped finding safety in the forest. I ruminated over my loss of safety, the lack of safety I found with my mother. And why did I think I couldn’t find safety by connecting with other mothers in my ancestral family, especially since my recent therapy had opened up that door? So, I pursued these connections by signing up with a genealogy website to explore family histories and to rediscover those mothers.

What started to emerge was an understanding of how my ancestors moved away from the forest in the waves of immigration, motivated by the promises of western capitalism. The pressure to become “American”—or to become “white”—was strong. The pressure to always look forward, not back, not around, was too great. Things were left behind. But who were these women that were my ancestral mothers? I’m sure they practiced cultural traditions. Their hands wove fabric together like mine. Made tea and toiled soil like mine. Maybe wore the Lithuanian patterns that my mind is drawn towards too.

I was raised to be unconcerned with my European heritage because it was perceived to be “all the same”. But what did this build and what did it cause us to lose? To be dismissive of one’s specific heritage because it is European is to support the idea of whiteness, bolstering white supremacy. That is how we started to reject the forest, in all of its diversity and connection to regional and ethnic culture. How we lose ourselves, our ancestral mothers, and our unique histories. Things that capitalism can never provide, even when demand is high.

During the pandemic, time opened up. I had time to look around. This book is a bound edition of some of the things I found. There are other ways of knowing. And this is just the beginning.”

— Monica Johnson, 2023

Risograph soy ink, Cyanotype prints on cotton fabric, Archival stamp inks
Handmade papers, made of dried herbs & grass from the artist’s backyard, recycled paper pulp, abaca plant pulp, turmeric
Mulberry papers, machine made of kozo, hemp & pulp
Plike Text Black 95lb/140g
Hand-quilted cotton fabric cover with open edges
Dried herbs stitched inside a mulberry paper lining (Linden, Motherwort, Elecampane, Solomon’s seal, Marshmallow)