Box Thoughts

Macaque Jagusah
→  BFA GD 2025

The birth of an object is different from that of a human. My first memories are spotty—I faded in and out of consciousness as I was transformed from blocks of wood into something containing a soul. If I were to guess what caused these moments of lucidity before I was finished, I would say it was the wills of my carvers; they held their tools with the skill and grace that would make any old hunk of wood feel special.

I found out what I was while they were making me. The humans scraped intricate designs into my surface all day long, and once their work was over most of them would leave. But not the one in charge. That one would lean over me and whisper my purpose to me—I was to be a cenotaph, a memorialization of an important man. I wondered if they were this obsessive with all their projects. According to them, I was going to be beautiful. I was to have calligraphy looping into lovely shapes, honoring god and the memory of a man I’d never known. I liked their voices almost as much as I liked the way their tools shaped me.

Objects don’t feel pain the same way humans do. The cracks are not the hurt of scratches, more the sting of neglect. I hate being in disrepair; it’s not what my carver would have wanted. It’s disrespectful towards the man I was made for, and towards everyone who cared for him. At least, that’s what I think—I never had a strong grasp on “culture,” or “meaning,” my only understanding coming from the words my crafters spoke to me or around me.

While staying at the Rhode Island School of Design’s museum, I was visited many times by many people. One visitor came in wearing a star-patterned robe with a pointed hood, a wizard of some sort. It stared at me like it didn’t expect me to be there, like I took it off guard. I admit that I take up quite a bit of space, but it made me feel a bit self conscious. It walked around me a few times, but eventually turned to the twin wine vessels beside me. It began sketching them, yet kept glancing back at me. It quickly finished the drawings and came to read my plaque.

The light in its eyes grew as it paced around me. Pure adoration and joy. It visited me a few more times after that.

“You know,” the wizard whispered to me one day, “you remind me of something I read. It was an essay, I think, about handicraft in India.”

I’m not from India, but I can’t say anything, so it continues.

“Because one of the things I first noticed about you was that you were hand-carved. And it’s beautiful. It’s not like you were mapped out with perfect lines and carved with lasers and loud machinery. But I like you more that way. There’s something about such huge swathes of wood being hand-carved that just feels right. You’d have less of a soul without it.”

It paused, eyes running across my surface.

“I wish I could read you,” it admitted. “Your calligraphy, I mean. I wish I could read it and have that point of connection with you. I know I’m missing a lot about you. You’re from a time and place I couldn’t possibly begin to understand, your importance to that culture is something I’ve only got the vaguest idea of. I only know the most general basics of how you were made. There’s a lot about me and where I came from that stops me from appreciating you in the context you were meant to be appreciated in.”

I believe the wizard and I are somewhat aligned in this; though I hold my duty of memorialization in high esteem, I’ve never fully understood the impact of my own existence. I had never been jealous of less “important” objects before. Now, I wish I was something that had eroded in a few years. If I were a table, I would see the lives of the people that owned me—I would become chipped, weathered, broken, and stained. I would love to watch the people who surrounded me go about their day until I cracked, and broke, and turned to rotted mulch. The wizard continued.

“I didn’t realize that at first. I was kind of just overwhelmed by your beauty, but talking to my classmate made me recognize just how limited my connection to you is. You’re a religious object of some kind, meant to memorialize. But I know that could mean so many different things. I think you’re gorgeous, but I don’t know if I’ll ever really get to know you.”

It strikes me that everyone who truly did “know me” is dead. The only insights left about me are through the lens of people who must speculate. Not even I know much about me. How can an object that exists in such a preserved condition as mine still remain so lost to history?

The wizard leaves me. I think about what it said about Indian handicraft. My identity is similarly tied to the people who made me, my function is nearly nonexistent without them. What would I be if not for the importance scraped into my sides? A big box?

I should have stayed with those who crafted me. I think I should have been destroyed alongside them too. Their moment is gone, yet I’m still here, though everything about me is tied so deeply to them. Their hands, their inspiration, their labor. All in praise of something I still didn’t quite understand.

I wish I was still with my carpenters. I wish I was new, and whole, and my creator was leaning over me, admiring their own handiwork. Back when all I had to think about was how I’d look finished.

Macaque Jagusah would like to spend most of its time making comics.