Above: Install. All images courtesy of Sheherazade

Cat Mummies Came First

Mary Clore

Time and experience leave their marks on everything: our built environment, our bodies, and the things we make. Artist Kim Charles Kay’s installation at Sheherazade, Cat Mummies Came First, contemplates marks that are both physical and ephemeral. The installation inundates the viewer with layers of found and altered materials: quilt squares, grave rubbings, photographs, and mirrors. Kay transforms the white-walled garage into a cave-like enclosure illuminated by an overhead projector, clamp lights, a video of bodies in a swimming pool, and reflections from the street outside. A closer look reveals a collage on nearly every surface, inviting the viewer to investigate the origins of each element and their own relationship to this specific time and place.

The grave rubbings, mounted to sheets of plywood that line the perimeter of the gallery, are collages on their own. Kay pieces together words and phrases from different headstones to create new compositions, rubbing graphite on paper over the surface to capture the chosen text and imagery. The script changes from word to word, but her grave rubbings highlight the shared poetics of remembrance. Kay also creates rubbings from the brick walls surrounding Sheherazade in Old Louisville. Along with the reproduced texture of the brick, mirrors against the back wall of the gallery bring the surrounding environment into the space. Cat Mummies Came First demands attention to the current place and time, reflecting Magnolia Avenue as it looks at that moment. The mirrors capture whoever is outside viewing the installation, incorporating them into the composition.

Cat Mummies Came First contains a multitude of small gestures that are difficult to read from a distance. The never-open, never-closed gallery offers viewers one vantage point from the glass garage door, and much of the labor and details are lost. The exhibition’s opening reception is the only opportunity to step inside the space, during which I was able to examine fragments of quilts that Kay has disassembled and reconstructed, which are suspended in the air and hang on the walls. She folds back the fabric strips in a log cabin square to reveal how much the fabric has faded over time. The found quilts date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. A section from a quilt that saw daily use displays the most intense contrast from the faded top of the quilt to the parts of the fabric that were folded under and shielded from the light. Though the fabric’s change in vibrancy is challenging to read from outside of the gallery, the appearance of an object as personal as a quilt nevertheless evokes the presence of the individuals who made and used it so many years ago. Through the glass door, Kay’s specific processes and found materials lose some of their complexity.

Kay practices as an ancestral healer as well as an artist. She describes herself as a cultural orphan—someone without a strong sense of intergenerational history as a result of centuries of colonization, industrialization, and war. As a healer, she helps others confront and accept the influence of past traumas on their lives. Our understanding of our individual self relies heavily on the past experiences of our community, whether or not linked directly to heritage. In Cultural Trauma, Ron Eyerman writes, “…memory is always group memory, both because the individual is derivative of some collectivity, family, and community, and also because a group is solidified and becomes aware of itself through continuous reflection upon and recreation of a distinctive, shared memory. Individual identity is said to be negotiated within this collectively shared past.”1 Kay demonstrates this by creating an uneasy sense of nostalgia in the otherwise sterile environment of the gallery. The objects and images she has assembled shift from familiar to indiscernible, personal to impersonal, leaving the viewer to conjure associations between them.

With museums and galleries currently closed to the public, Sheherazade offers one of the few safe, in-person art experiences in Louisville. Cat Mummies Came First remains available to residents of Old Louisville despite social distancing measures, at a time when many of us may be struggling to decipher our personal onslaught of emotions amidst global anxieties. Despite the diversity of lived experiences through the crisis, the reach of the COVID-19 pandemic generates a moment of shared memory that will undoubtedly shape and mark our communities moving forward. Cat Mummies Came First suggests a visual language for the overlapping influences that converge at one place and time.


Cat Mummies Came First is on view at Sheherazade through May 17, 2020.

Sheherazade is viewable 24/7, from the sidewalks of West Magnolia Avenue, in the garage behind 1401 South 3rd Street, Louisville KY, 40208.

Kim Charles Kay and gallerist Julie Leidner will be hosting a discussion of Kay’s work and practice as an ancestral healer as it pertains to Cat Mummies Came First on Instagram Live at 7pm on May 9, 2020. Follow Sheherazade on Instagram @sheherazade.gallery



Mary Clore
Development & Outreach Editor, Contributor



Install; opening reception on March 7, 2020.

The artist, Kim Charles Kay, arranges photographs during the opening reception.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY