Karmimadeebora McMillan

The majority of my work comes from a place of empowerment. I’m motivated by research of Black History and the resilience of Black communities.

I use a character that was originally meant to instill fear in Black Communities, the character I call Ms. Merri Mack. Ms. Merri Mack was initially depicted as a picaninny, a derogatory term used to pick on dark skinned black children, to make them feel less than, unworthy and shame for the color of their skin.

Through this shame colorism evolved – Colorism Is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

The name Ms. Merri Mack comes from a nursery rhyme used as a hand clapping game with children and was actually sung by slave children.

Slave children were taught corn ditties (the original name for Negro spirituals) to take their young minds off harsh plantation life. They would work & clap their hands in rhythm while singing.

Miss Mary Mack happened to be one of those ditties. As with other corn ditties, Miss Mary Mack was symbolic in that the Merrimack was an ironclad Union ship coming to fight the confederate army. It was built with rivets (silver buttons) & ships have always been referred to as females. There is also symbolism in the song where the child is asking her mother (the Confederate States of America) for fifty cents (a metaphor for change) to see the elephants (symbol of the Republican party who “freed the slaves”) jump the fence (Mason-Dixon line).

Because of the constant trauma Black Women and young girls face, I want to talk about our power instead. I’m using Ms. Merri Mack as a catalyst for change. A reminder that things can change if you work hard enough for it.

To engage this way of thinking I combine wonder and play and a sense of the fantastical to show that she is just a dark-skinned Black girl living her best life. From Pain to Power is how I think of the rebranding of this character.

Most of the history you find on Black Women especially in America focuses on the negative. I think it’s important people to know there are lots of positive powerful Black Women in our histories as well.

“History has not been herstory, and modern women seriously need ways to connect with and understand their ancestral warrior strengths and power.” Lilith Dorsey

Miss Mary Mack Lyrics

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back. (or “Up and down her back back back”)
She asked her mother, mother, mother
for fifty (or 15) cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants (or hippos or cows)
Jump the fence, fence, fence.
They jumped so high, high, high
they reached the sky, sky, sky
And didn’t (or never) come back, back, back
Till the 4th of July ly ly.

Karmimadeebora McMillan was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina and is based in Cambridge, MA. She has a MFA (2013) and Post Baccalaureate certificate (2011) from The School of the Museum of Arts at Tufts, Boston. She worked for the street artist Swoon for five years as her business manager, and helped start her non-profit organization, Heliotrope Foundation. McMillan has also performed with her mentor Magdalena Campos-Pons at the Guggenheim and Queens Museums in New York, and the Havana, Cuba Biennale 15. Karmimadeebora is currently the Director of the Post Baccalaureate Program and lecturer at SMFA/Tufts.