N/um is a site-specific installation by Savannah and New York City-based artist Tafy LaPlanche (American, b. 1991) for the 2022 iteration of Telfair Museums’ Boxed in/Break Out project to activate the public-facing windows at the Jepson Center on Barnard Street.
Hallie Ringle, Hugh Kaul Curator of Contemporary Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art and guest judge for Boxed In/Break Out, selected LaPlanche’s proposal because her work investigated “the relationship between healing, dance, and voodoo. Now that we’re years into the pandemic, we’ve been hearing a lot about vaccines, treatments, and wellness, and I love that LaPlanche thought about the many ways that cultures experience disease, medicine, and healing. The resulting works are beautiful, dynamic, and invigorating––just what the world needs right now.”
The 5 paintings on view will pull from LaPlanche’s native Haitian culture to consider the principal ritual of the healing dance in voodoo. The ceremonial dance offers spiritual and physical health to people suffering from illness who are trapped under the evil influence of spirits of death. The paintings echo the progression of the dance and the journey of the n/um, an object of unidentifiable spiritual energy, from the stomach to the brain. As the dance continues, it grows in intensity until the healer-dancers go into a state of deep concentration that allows them to cure the suffering individuals. The paintings visually trace the n/um, represented by the colorful botanicals, up the stomach and ribcage, along the spine, and into the skull where its energy is released. According to the good spirits of the ancestors, this explosion of the n/um in the skull symbolizes rebirth. The last painting of the series reveals the face of the dancing individual as a final look at what is left behind before the n/um erupts and the healing begins.
About the Artist:
Tafy LaPlanche is an Afro-Latina portrait artist living and working between New York City and Savannah. In her studio in City Market, she paints unique and vibrant portraits that connect people across social, class, and geographical barriers. LaPlanche’s unusual journey to artmaking began when she was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 13. Instead of the gaming systems provided to the younger patients, the hospital provided LaPlanche with a pen and paper for entertainment. She began sketching visitors passing by her hospital room, which prompted her mother to enroll her in art school. Despite attending classes that were taught in Mandarin, LaPlanche applied her skills to her artistic practice and discovered her art could transcend all language barriers.
Boxed In/Break Out is part of Telfair Museums’ #art912 initiative, which is dedicated to raising the visibility and promoting the vitality of artists living and working in Savannah. This exhibition is organized by Telfair Museums and curated by Erin Dunn, curator of modern and contemporary art.