Who was Sally Hemings? You could choose a number of titles: the mother of Thomas Jefferson’s children; his wife, Martha Jefferson’s, sister; Martha and Thomas’s slave. Her story is now nearly two centuries old, yet still demanded an answer in 1998, when a DNA test finally confirmed her link to the Jefferson bloodline.
Hemings is the subject of one of two shows at the Studio Museum right now, which both dig up old narratives, and both pull out a very fresh take on identity. The cerebral “American Cypher” by Mendi + Keith Obadike, and the romantic “Stray Light” by David Hartt are worth a trip up to Harlem, just to add their voices to the fray.