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Desert Tears

Smudging, in addition to a spreading material, is a term used to describe the ritualistic burning of herbs and plant matter to cleanse toxic energy. Smudging as an act of purification has it's earliest recorded origins in the ancient Middle East where it is believed the ancient Assyrians burned frankincense during religious ceremonies. Produced in deserts of the Middle East frankincense is called desert tears for several reasons. The process of extraction involves cutting and scarring tree trunks so they ooze tear drop shaped deposits of resin. Additionally, frankincense has historically been used in the preparation of bodies for burial to help counteract the smell of death. It was historically a valuable resource for trade on the incense route from Arabia to Gaza, at times equal to it's weight in gold and a highly prized perfume. It  is now commonly burned as incense in homes throughout the Middle East, to welcome guests, and for the purposes of spiritual purification.

This project explores the use of frankincense as a drawing medium to produce a series of drawings through different phases of the "smudging" process. The crushed resin, which forms images of the American Flag, is burned as incense to create dark images of the Flag burned into the surface of the panel. The smoke is captured as it leaves the burning resin by paper placed above it.


Frankincense as an artistic medium is a reference to the valuable natural resources of the middle east, to death, to beauty, to covering up, to purification, to riches, to grief and to hospitality. The burning flag references acts of anti American sentiment complicated by the self critical role of the artist’s hand igniting it, and the incense is an effort to cleanse the symbol of the flag. The smoke drawings produced by the burning resin and the heavy black smoke also calls to mind toxicity and the burning oil fields associated with the Iraq war. The resulting drawings are infused with the smell of frankincense and can be experienced as both a visual and olfactory record. 

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