top of page

Smithonia Mapmaker

Smithonia Mapmaker


Art, Research, Architecture, Film, Speculative

Smithonia Mapmaker is part of an ongoing project that began with an invitation to help reimagine and conceive a plan for how a residential 89 acre farm in Oglethorpe County, GA could become a place for artistic production as a formal studio and place for site-specific artwork. Incorporating both archival material, filmed footage and recorded audio from the site, the film aims to act as a mechanism by which an audience (perhaps an architect or artist who may one day engage with this place in the future) can position and orient themselves within the deeply entangled histories and narratives that, in part, form this particular place’s identity.

The farm is located at the center of an area known as Smithonia, next to the home from where a man named James Monroe Smith ruled somewhat of an autonomous kingdom, with its own railroad system, of sharecroppers and state-leased convict slaves that grew into Georgia’s largest plantation during the Reconstruction years. This particular district of former Smithonia is registered under the National Register of Historic Places for its significant cultural, economic, and political historic significance.

Though Jim Smith died in 1915 and his property, with no heir, was fragmented and auctioned to many unrelated parties, the violent institutional economic and political systems by which he was able to lease hundreds of African American convicts from the state are pervasive today in numerous ways. Two decades after Jim Smith’s demise, Food Security Administration photographer Jack Delano (born Jacob Ovcharov, an immigrant from the Russian Empire), documented the labor conditions of the convicts working on the construction of the public road that passes through the historic district. That same road is maintained and operated today by a man named Adam Nation, who is Cherokee and Director of Public Works in Oglethorpe County. His ancestors once used the same fertile land as a hunting ground which they shared with the Muskogee Creek people. Quartz arrowheads continue to be found today.

The map that we were interested in producing was simultaneously the navigational tool that we needed. Mapping can attempt to reveal the complexity of relations between the people, identities and the physical and cultural spaces they occupy. But a map represents something that is already understood. Rather than a traditional topographic map, it was important for us to produce a relational map that could be used to read the conditions, present and historical, of a place, but in a way that was not proscriptive, can be ambiguous in its line, allow for the porosity of borders, and leaves room for uncertainty and hesitation. This kind of map would be one that could only be completed by engaging its user as a co-producer; recognizing that a place, with its own cultural identity, is not only in a state of being (as understood by how its history is
remembered), but in one’s simple act of navigating that space, it is in also a state of becoming, through the active imagining of its future.

Vijay Rajkumar MArch, MIT (Research, Archive, Camera, Editing, Soundtrack, Text)

Benjamin Tasistro-Hart MArch, MIT (Research, Archive, Camera, Field Recording)

Archival assistance: Annie Simpson MFA, University of Georgia

Special thanks:

Our hosts: John and Jane Robertson & Nicholas Byrne

Susan Roberts, for assembling the immense archive that documents the property’s history

The people of Oglethorpe County

The MIT Transmedia Storytelling Initiative

bottom of page