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Archive for the ‘Exhibitions’ Category

06.30.12 Keep All You Wish Installation

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Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum is a an exhibition I curated, which is currently on display at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies.  To learn more about this project, please follow these links: http://www.sarahstacke.com/keep-all-you-wish/  and  http://exhibits.library.duke.edu/exhibits/show/hughmangum/

120530_keepallyouwish_installation_001

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Written by Sarah Stacke

June 30, 2012 at 9:46 am

The Stories Between

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By Sarah Stacke.

One of the first images a visitor sees when entering Becoming: Photographs from the Wedge Collection is a black and white portrait of Dr. Kenneth Montague, made by Malian photographer Malick Sidibé.   Standing against a vertically striped backdrop, the tightly checkered pattern of his shirt hovering above the loosely checkered floor, Montague raises his fists in a playful, yet commanding gesture, seeming to say, “Here I Am.”

Becoming, a recent exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, explores themes of black identity from the late 19th century to the present.  The exhibition features 110 photographic portraits by more than 60 Canadian, American, English, African and Caribbean artists and is culled from the private collection of Montague, a Toronto-based dentist, collector and founder of Wedge Curatorial Projects.  Becoming – title, theme and content – is inspired by a critical concept expressed in Cultural Identity and Diaspora, a seminal text by cultural theorist Stuart Hall: “Cultural identity is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past…identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.”[i]

The fluidity of identity and its ability to reside in the past, present and future is a principal component of Becoming’s curatorial statement.  Hall’s words act as a provocative welcome and highlight the relationships that are formed between the photographic subjects and the viewer while navigating the artists’ explorations of black life.  The pieces seldom rely on the conflict and stereotypes through which black communities are so often seen, and instead provide a fresh investigation of black representation built on strength, style, friendship, family and love.

Montague’s desire to select images from his private collection that simultaneously speak to the shared experiences of black culture and to his personal journey as a Canadian of Jamaican descent can occasionally feel perplexing.  Becoming leaves one trying to maintain a balance between reading the exhibition as a collection that expresses complex notions of black identity or as a collection that articulates one man’s quest to identify with his history through imagery.  Becoming might also be read as an exhibition composed of seductive images by prominent artists, causing one to question whether or not bringing together 110 powerful images covering many eras equals a more powerful, singular whole.  Nevertheless, Montague manages to express his influences and affections for the images in a way that allows one to connect with Montague’s own cultural identity, if not a view of multiple cultural identities.

At its heart, Becoming is the result of Montague’s quest to answer the personal and profound question: “Who am I?”  Montague (b. 1963) was raised by Jamaican parents who settled in Windsor, Canada in 1957.  Windsor is a medium-sized city curiously located South of Detroit, Michigan and is famed as a destination for thousands traveling the Underground Railroad.  Childhood summers in Jamaica connected Montague to his roots; family excursions across the narrow river separating Windsor from the United States introduced him to the vibrant African American culture of Detroit; dental conventions in Paris put him in touch with Europe’s African diaspora; and predominantly white Canada was, and remains, home.  Montague’s desire to understand and connect with these converging histories created equal affinities for Aerosmith, Rush and Peter Tosh, and is what propelled him to begin collecting art in the early 1990s.

The dynamism of Becoming is grounded in its confluence of documentary and conceptual works, made by artists from around the world.  Montague and the Nasher Museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art, Trevor Schoonmaker, have created a space in which lived and imagined narratives – many concerning society’s centuries-old dance with black culture – are communicated by the imagery.  The portraits are bound together by shared histories and an exploration of black identity, yet are intent on celebrating difference and individuality.  “It’s about finding that thread that unites, and at the same time emphasizing the many ways in which we can be black,” exclaims Montague.[ii]  His hope is that all who view Becoming will relate to, and engage with, a number of the works, either through experience, memory or imagination.

The portraits in Becoming are organized into six narrative groups: Early Works, Social Awareness, The Gaze/How you see me, American Stories: U.S. and Canada, Diasporic Journeys: England and the Caribbean, and New Thinking.  Although these groupings are not based on chronology, the earliest pieces tend to represent a time when subjects had little control over the way they were depicted, while Mid-Century works offer a collaboration between artist and sitter, and many of the most recent portraits are conceptual and performative.  Some aim to subvert ideas of black identity, while others turn the tables completely, making the artist the subject of his or her own photographs.

Sugar Cane Cutting (Jamaica) 1891, by an unknown photographer, is the first image in “Early Works,” made as the Americas and the Caribbean emerged from the veil of slavery.  The image captures a crew of 12 men and women amidst a field of recently cut sugar cane, their backs against rows of uncut stalks that reach above their heads.  A bearded master who leans on a closed umbrella the way the others might lean on a machete, is pictured among the workers.  His left hand is wrapped around the joint of a willfully broken stalk, its 90-degree angle divulging the brutal work enforced by the master, which is epitomized in the bent-over figure of a single female worker in the foreground.

“Diasporic Journeys: England and the Caribbean” is where the viewer might expect to find the most direct influence of Montague’s heritage, both Jamaican and as a citizen of Canada.  Nonetheless, the images in this section do not give the impression of carrying more personal weight for Montague than images from the United States, Africa and beyond.  Nearly every piece in Becoming is accompanied by a text panel of Montague’s words, imparting his personal voice upon the images, and by extension the exhibition as a whole.  At times, the texts assign overly conclusive meaning to the portraits, but they also express how he feels the images embody “being” and “becoming.”  The text alongside eleven vintage photographs from Nassau, Bahamas states, “This is a real 1970s family photo album full of Kodak Instamatic shots…the images are in dialogue with many of the works in this exhibition.  Becoming is a celebration of great photographers and their work, but is also about the little stories in between that we tell amongst ourselves.  I can imagine the people dressed up for studio portraits are the same people in this photo album…these photographs are all about being and becoming.”[iii]  The snapshots are spontaneously framed squares featuring vivacious, beautiful women, cast in white borders that pay no mind to heads, fingers or feet.  Drinks are held high, cigarettes dangle, eyes close with laughter, shiny white platforms extend from the fluttering ends of white bell-bottoms and conversation flows.  A fitting title for this small collection within a collection might be, Behind the Scenes of Becoming.

The work of Cecil Norman Ward, who was born in Canada and now lives in Jamaica, is included in “Diasporic Journeys,” as well as work by Vanley Burke, Wayne Salmon and Charlie Phillips, artists who were born in Jamaica and work in Canada or the UK.  Notting Hill Couple, 1967, by Phillips pictures a young interracial couple, their gazes softly and confidently confronting the viewer.  Simple wallpaper provides the backdrop, suggesting this elegant portrait was made inside their home.  The young man’s arm curves around the back of his girlfriend and his hand rests comfortably and casually on her shoulder, a splendid contrast to her white sweater.  Their heads touch at the temple, a tender gesture demonstrating their affection and partnership.  Montague considers Notting Hill Couple a masterpiece because of its transcendent qualities.  “I fell in love with this couple because of their love,” exclaims Montague.  “We have a lot of conversations about race, identity and black identity at Wedge Curatorial Projects.  But [in this image] it’s pretty clear that love triumphs all.”[iv]

A portrait titled Arusha, made in Africa by Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen, is included in “New Thinking,” the final section of the exhibition.  Viewed alongside the earlier portraits in Becoming, the movement in black depiction can now be traced into the future.  Sassen draws on her background as a fashion photographer and works with her subjects to construct stylized portraits that are playful, mysterious and above all theatrical.  She often conceals her subject’s face in deep shadow, creating an unresolved tension between subject, photographer and viewer.  Her unique aesthetic raises questions of representation and at the same time evokes elements of the mysticism that are a part of life in Africa.  In Arusha, a woman wearing a thin black blouse decorated with pale flowers stands in front of lush green leaves, drenched in the warm sun.  She is seen from the waist up and her arms hang at her sides.  Her head is tilted toward her right shoulder and her gaze, only visible through her right eye confronts the viewer.  With the exception of her eye and a portion of forehead, her entire face is obscured by shadow.  This woman is in control of what she is willing to reveal, yet at the same time she seems to be inviting the viewer closer, tempting imagination.  “Imagination,” as defined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “is forever seeking to incorporate new ideas and experiences, reaching a new, larger whole.  Its end is understanding.”  In other words, imagination can create a connection across great difference, a bridge between lives; it can behold new horizons.

Becoming’s greatest power is its ability to invite viewers to examine their own personal and shared histories that exist within and across cultural spaces – both the epic histories and the small in between.  As David Deitcher observes,  “One knows one’s past through pictures–through looking at and identifying with photographs that relate, however indirectly to one’s lived experience.”[v]


[i] Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Ed. Jonathan Rutherford. London:  Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. 222-37. Print.

[ii] Dr. Kenneth Montague, interview by author, October 2011.

[iii] Dr. Kenneth Montague, text panel, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

[iv] Dr. Kenneth Montague, text panel, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

[v] Deitcher, David.   Alan B. Stone, Nostalgia, and the Senses of Place.  http://www.daviddeitcher.com/ARTICLES/articles.html

Written by Sarah Stacke

June 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

04.28.12 Hugh Mangum: Keep All You Wish

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Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum
April 30–October 20
Lyndhurst Gallery, Center for Documentary Studies
1317 W. Pettigrew St.
Durham, North Carolina

Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum features a selection of turn-of-the-twentieth-century portraits from the Hugh Mangum Collection, preserved within Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Mangum began establishing studios and working as an itinerant photographer in the early 1890s, traveling by rail through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Rare for his time, Mangum attracted and cultivated a clientele that drew heavily from both the African American and white communities, especially in his hometown. In Mangum’s lifetime he likely exposed thousands of glass plate negatives; sadly most of those were destroyed through benign neglect after his death or are now lost, as are any records of the names and dates associated with the images.

In 1922, six weeks before his death at age forty-four, Mangum wrote a letter to his sister Lula signed, “Give my love to all and keep all you wish, Your Brother Hugh.” It’s possible he anticipated death, or maybe the salutation is simply an indicator of his kind spirit. Read as an expression of his pictures, the phrase “keep all you wish” suggests Mangum’s generosity in creating an atmosphere—respectful and often playful—in which the many hundreds of men, women, and children who posed for him were able to genuinely reveal themselves. A century later, Mangum’s portraits allow us to gaze into the faces of early-twentieth-centuryDurham and the American South.

—SARAH STACKE, curator

Written by Sarah Stacke

April 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm

01.18.11 City Pages reviews A Reasonable Facsimile

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Written by Sarah Stacke

January 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

01.14.11 A Reasonable Facsimile opens at Augsburg College

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The second showing of A Reasonable Facsimile opened at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN on January 10th.  I couldn’t make it to the first show in Illinois, but I can’t pass up an opportunity to see the exhibit in my first hometown.  If you find yourself in Minneapolis on the 21st, it would be great to see you at the reception.  And then we can celebrate with a few Moscow Mules at the Red Stag Supper Club.

(reprinted from 09/18/10) Earlier this year I was honored to be chosen as one of twelve photographers to participate in  A Reasonable Facsimile, a project created by Michelle Westmark.  This “game of visual telephone” began in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a photograph taken by Michelle.  She then sent a 4×6 postcard of the image to the next photographer in the chain.  This photographer interpreted the image with an original image, and sent a 4×6 postcard of the new image to the next photographer.  The project proceeded around the country in this fashion and ended in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  It is important to note that each photographer only saw the image that they received in the mail.  The progression of the chain was not revealed until all twelve photographers had finished.

New York was stop number seven.  The postcard I received was from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I carried it with me everywhere I went for two weeks trying to decipher its meaning.  It was a self-portrait taken on Cinco de Mayo in the photographer’s home.  The subject was pictured looking out her balcony — it was personal, but at the same time distant.  I responded by making a photograph called “In Bed” that was sent to Delaware.  To learn more about the project and view the entire chain please visit the website I created for the project: www.facsimileproject.com.

Written by Sarah Stacke

January 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm

09.18.10 A Reasonable Facsimile

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Based on Baudelaire’s claim that a photograph can never be an authentic copy of real life, each photographer will interpret one another’s photographs in a visual conversation that progresses around the country. It’s a photographic experiment in interpretation that functions similarly to a game of visual telephone. This project explores the complexity of communication, perception, and inter-connection in an increasingly globalized/digitalized world.    — Michelle Westmark

Earlier this year I was honored to be chosen as one of twelve photographers to participate in  A Reasonable Facsimile, a project created and led by Michelle Westmark.  This “game of visual telephone” began in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a photograph taken by Michelle.  She then sent a 4×6 postcard of the image to the next photographer in the chain.  This photographer interpreted the image with an original image, and sent a 4×6 postcard of the new image to the next photographer.  The project proceeded around the country in this fashion and ended in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  It is important to note that each photographer only saw the image that they received in the mail.  The progression of the chain was not revealed until all twelve photographers had finished.

New York was stop number seven.  The postcard I received was from Charlotte, North Carolina, and I carried it with me everywhere I went for two weeks trying to decipher its meaning.  It was a self-portrait taken on Cinco de Mayo in the photographer’s home.  The subject was pictured looking out her balcony — it was personal, but at the same time distant.  I responded by making a photograph called “In Bed” that was sent to Delaware.  To view the entire chain, and learn about upcoming exhibits, please visit the website I created for the project: http://www.facsimileproject.com.

 

In Bed - New York, NY - 5.29.10 - 77 F

 

Written by Sarah Stacke

September 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm