Digital DNA – Bloodlines and the Family of Mankind | Toni Scott

DNA Toni Scott
Toni Scott: DNA – BLOODLINES AND THE FAMILY OF MANKIND, Dame Jillian Sackler International Artists Exhibition Program at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University in Beijing, China (Photo: Lintao Zhang / Getty Images)

The exhibition “DNA, Bloodlines and the Family of Mankind” by U.S.-based contemporary artist Toni Scott is her first major solo exhibition in China.

Scott hopes that her works will play a role in bridging communication and exchanges, and promoting harmonious relationships between different peoples and countries. The installation works at the exhibit come from her recent “Bloodlines” series, and indulge audiences in an atmosphere of dark shadows, back-lit portraits, and monumental sculptures.

What began as a personal odyssey 12 years ago, an autobiography of sorts based on DNA findings, handed-down family anecdotes, and memorabilia exhibited in multiple venues (including a three-year solo at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles), has become more epic in scope over time. Expanded here into an overview of the history of African Americans and Native Americans and their relationship to the peoples of Asia and Africa, Scott explores how far-flung, disparate cultures are both joined and severed. In prehistory, mankind moved from Africa to Asia and finally to America, resulting in the same DNA legacy on all three continents.

Scott herself is mixed-race, and partly descended from the Muscogee Native American people, who have a population of 70,000.

The heart of the exhibition is an approximately 7.3-metre (24-foot) long, illuminated slave ship suspended from the gallery ceiling, just above the heads of the viewers, constructed from 500 translucent images of both family members and faces taken from the Library of Congress‘ archival collections, blue-tinted as if they had been stained by ocean waves. The portraits are an attempt to restore the individuality of the countless, all too often anonymous souls who were forcibly uprooted from their homes, transformed into chattel sentenced to hard labour in the Americas.

Another highlight is the to-scale tipi erected in the courtyard (there is a smaller one in the entrance space), a contested icon that Scott installed to represent the Native American side of her heritage (she is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation), the exterior emblazoned with traditional designs and symbolic colours, the interior inscribed with the names of all the tribes that existed in North America, officially designated as 527 as of this July by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The structures of both the tents are made with bamboos produced in China, indicating an integration of Chinese and Native Americans cultures.

Additionally, there are enormous banners with figures (often of the artist) emblematic of significant historical moments, written text on two walls that is a lament for an abducted child, genealogical charts tracing Scott’s maternal and paternal lineage, and documentation and images that compare Asians, Africans and Native Americans in a blend of the personal, the ethnographic and sociological, the historical and the poetic, proceeding from the specific to the general. Ultimately, Bloodlines celebrates not only the will to survive but also the “human spirit”, as Scott said, in all its magnificent diversity.  As well, it celebrates our surprising homogeneity, in which only a few degrees of separation stand between us all.

Sources: Women of China & Vimeo


Toni Scott graduated in from University of Southern California, and took training at the famed Otis College of Art and Design. She is known for creating works by integrating different art forms, including painting, sculpture, photography, and multimedia.

Her “Bloodlines” installation art exhibition on the history of American slavery and her ancestors toured the U.S., and her solo exhibition at the California African American Museum ran for three years. Her works have been collected by organizations and individuals across the world. Scott’s diverse lineage motivated her to focus on the history and culture of difference races as well as her own family history.

Upcoming Exhibition
Changzhou, Museum
Changzhou, Jiangsu Sheng, China
January 29 to March 29, 2016

Immediate Past Exhibition:

Arthur M Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology
Dame Jillian Sackler International Artists Exhibition Program
Peking University
4 July – 27 September 2015

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