I am overjoyed to announce that I will be one of five artists participating in INDELIBLE: That Which Cannot Be Erased, at Gallery O on H, 1354 H Street NE, Washington DC, from February 22 to the end of May. I will have over 40 palladium prints in the show. I also want to give a huge round of applause to Mary Ellen Vehlow, the owner of Gallery O on H and curator of this show, for including my work in a very powerful exhibit.
INDELIBLE: that which cannot be erased. A multimedia two-floor installation curated by Gallery Director Dolly Vehlow of GalleryOonH and Busboys and Poets Arts Curator Carol Rhodes Dyson.
Opening Reception: February 22nd 6-10pm. On exhibit through May 2019. Daily Tuesday 5-7:30PM, Wed-Fri 12-5PM, Saturday 11-3PM.
Indelible: that which cannot be erased is a confrontation of an unjust and repetitive history. The works in this exhibition seek to highlight a narrative often overlooked by mainstream art history to illustrate a continuum of injustice in our nation, featuring artists working in its capital city. Inspired by Black History Month, the show seeks to focus on the cyclical nature of unresolved issues–from the legacy of slavery to modern day police overreach and violence. The works included are a visual embodiment of current events, linked to a sinister history of oppression. Indelible puts local artists to the forefront, selected to underline the long history of racial inequality within our collective past and contemporary society. Artists featured include Milton Bowens, Billy Colbert, Scott Davis, Nehemiah Dixon, Justyne Fischer and Rodney “BUCK!” Herring.
My artists statement about the work:
Roland Barthes wrote of how a photograph contains a “punctum”, an element that strikes the viewer to the spiritual core, something that provokes a visceral emotional reaction in them. I believe life has moments of punctum – the origins of this project, for me, was an experience that ran through me like a lightning bolt. I was taking a Civil War history tour through the Smithsonian one late summer afternoon. I was standing on the lawn of L’Hermitage, a farm just outside Frederick, Maryland. I was looking around at the gently rolling hills, trees full of green leaves, puffy white clouds dotting the sky, corn in the adjacent field taller than my head, and listening to the guide talking about the history of the place.
The farm was founded by a family of French emigres from Haiti who had fled the slave uprisings in the 1790s. They re-settled in Frederick, Maryland, and proceeded to attempt to reestablish Haitian-style slavery replete with the same degree of brutality they had practiced before. These people were so brutal with their slaves that their neighbors, slave-owners themselves, called the sheriff on them multiple times. In 1810, the importation of new slaves into the United States was made illegal. After that time, if you wanted more slaves, you had to buy them from someone else, or you could breed them. This family ran a stud service with their slaves, treating human beings as breeding stock.
Hearing this, I was struck by the horrific irony of the pastoral idyll of the scene I was viewing being literally soaked in the blood of other human beings who had lived, worked, and died there quite possibly never able to look at that scenery with the innocence I had looked at it until the moment before that revelation. I felt compelled to respond to that epiphany artistically, because I knew from my own experience that all the academic reading in the world does not adequately convey that emotional truth I had experienced.
I grew up with a very specific version of the history of this country – it was built by great men of lofty ideals, who imbued it with a progressive spirit intended to raise up the dignity of all humans. As a child, and into my adulthood, I went to the houses of these great men to see the way they lived and the places that inspired them to deliver the great nation of the United States into being. We went to Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier in Virginia, the Paca house in Annapolis, Maryland, the Carroll estates in Baltimore, and dozens of other colonial-era grand homes – their grandness was signaled as direct proof of their virtue and wisdom.
It was never discussed that they had the wealth and leisure to develop these lofty ideas because they owned in some cases hundreds of their fellow human beings who labored for them to produce that wealth and leisure. Nor was it discussed that these men who wrote so eloquently about the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness saw fit to administer corporal punishment to the people they owned when those people decided that they too were deserving of the same life, liberty and happiness their owners wrote about.
I still go to see those great houses because I am fascinated by the styles and architecture of bygone eras, but now I think about how they were paid for (and often built) with slave labor. It is a metaphoric and literal foundation to this country that we must acknowledge and recognize if we are ever going to make forward progress.
I chose to produce these images the way I have for two reasons. I made them as compact contact prints 2 ¼ by 4 ¼ inches in size to force the viewer to engage very personally with the images, so they cannot hold themselves at arm’s length from the subject. I printed them in an historic photographic process, palladium, because using a noble metal to make jewel-like images that can only be made with extensive manual labor was a metaphorical way of repaying some of the debt to the people who without compensation or recognition built and shaped the landscapes I photographed. I hope that these images will in this way produce moments of punctum for the viewers the way they have for me.
Come see INDELIBLE.