Overburden: stripping away the Mountains and their People

Upper Traylor Gallery, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, 2015

Dimensions: 13' W x 30' D x 10' H

Materials: muslin curtains with text, overburden dust, prepared crow specimen, and photographs by Ami Vitale of the mountaintop removal mine, Cherry Creek Mtn., Lindytown, WV, and a photograph by Michael Collier of the Peabody Coal Mine at Black Mesa, AZ

Each society produces its own slaughter of innocents, of those who are most expendable. 

Carole Gallagher

Find out just what people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. These will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Frederick Douglass - August 4, 1857

 “For purple mountains’ majesty” where few people live, Americans exploded nuclear bombs and watched pink clouds settle into the throats of other Americans.  Shedding grace?                                                                                

Kenneth Brewer

I was raised as a member in the Mormon Church in Utah. I was taught to never question our leaders, those in authority who proclaimed that “all is well.” In Southern Utah, however, we became a disposable people. Beginning in 1951, the federal government conducted above ground testing of nuclear weapons in the deserts of Nevada. The nuclear fallout from those tests blew eastward, downwind, falling mainly in Utah. All was well. The Eisenhower administration believed that the risk of injury to a few thousand people due to nuclear testing in the name of national security was worth the sacrifice. 

I view what has been going on in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia as being very similar to what happened in the Great Basin of Nevada and Southern Utah in the 1950s. Mountaintop removal represents collusion between federal and state governments and fossil fuel companies. All three fail to protect the people and communities who live there, along with the mountains and watersheds that sustain their culture. 

Lynch, Kentucky sits near the base of Black Mountain, the highest mountain in the Commonwealth. A red brick wall stands in this little town, memorializing the names of miners who died working underground. This wall inspired the design behind Overburden. I believe that the 500+ mountains that have been destroyed through mountaintop removal will never return to their once natural order. In this installation, I’ve tried to give memory to these mountains, drawn out on the floor using overburden dust collected from mountaintop removal.

Like nuclear testing, mountaintop removal is a crime against humanity. It is a form of terror, of cultural genocide. It should be banned.

*I want to thank photographers Ami Vitale and Michael Collier for letting me use their photographs for this installation.