With Doubt & Imagination, Ariel René Jackson debuts a lyrical film essay, combining poetry, memoir, and research overlaid with in-camera effects. Presented in Dallas Contemporary’s Black Box, Jackson’s work considers what data is appropriate when speculating about a cultural past that has been erased by colonialism and industrial progress. This film, as well as its title, is inspired by Jackson’s research into the back-and-forth conversation between two archeologists, Leland Ferguson and Christopher Espenshade, who discussed the role of doubt and imagination when developing theories on the uses of early Black American pottery in South Carolina, otherwise called colonoware.
When researching colonoware in Skowhegan, ME, in 2018, Jackson took a deep dive into the history of the pottery made during the 18th and 19th centuries, and typically found near U.S. reservations and plantations. This research included the work of Black archeologist Leland Ferguson who illustrated the relationships between the Carolinas and Sierra Leone by finding pottery with similar markings. This theory, developed using comparative techniques, led Ferguson to suggest that some colonoware could have been made for purposes of traditional African medicine and waterside rituals as well as culinary purposes. Ferguson’s research took off and in response, critics, including white archeologist Christopher Espenshade, challenged his use of imagination.
Responding to Espenshade, Ferguson wrote, “both imagination and doubt are essential components of the process. Espenshade finds my work, and especially interpretations of that work, heavy on imagination and light on doubt...in turn, I find Espenshade’s critique excessively weighted toward doubt and lacking imagination.”