I am currently showing two series of work (its still up for anyone who wants to check it out) at a cool little gallery on the Upper West Side in NYC. A series from a baby beauty pageant as well as a series documenting sites where people have been lynched are on display.
The micro-gallery is actually in my friends apartment. The Society for Domestic Museology resides in the living room of Heather and Joel Topcik’s apartment on 59th and 8th avenue. The gallery was devised for a number of reasons: One, a cunningly brilliant way to get free art rotating through the home of the Topcik’s. Secondly, to provide a platform for artistso display their work and be the impetus for a salon where the artist and attendees engage in a lively, thought provoking discussion. I am the third artist to be exhibited at SfDM.
The first body of work on display is from a series I did on lynching. The concept of the series consists of revisiting historical sites of racial violence and also document what is happening in these places currently. It is done in an attempt to memorialize the people who lost their lives there in these extra-judicial tragedies. Ideally the series will serve as a way to have these locations rolled into the Civil Rights Memorial Highway or Federally/State run battleground memorial sites each tree bearing the name of whom and when an innocent person was killed there.
Here is an excerpt about the lynching series from Heather’s article on the show. Full article here.“Southernscapes, Joshua’s installation for the SfDM, consists of two series, one black and white, one color, both taken during a road trip through the American South in 2011. The trip was inspired by James Allen’s 2001 book, Without Sanctuary, documenting the disturbing visual legacy of postcards and photographic souvenirs taken at public lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1950. Deeply moved by this tragic history, Joshua set out to find some of the sites where lynchings had occurred in order to memorialize these now-anonymous places that have faded back into the landscape, a willfully forgotten chapter in our nation’s past. Each photograph depicts a place where a specific lynching occurred — a tree in front of a Shreveport courthouse, a field along an Arkansas highway, a railroad bridge in Alabama, an oak tree in Mississippi. The name of the victim and the year of the lynching are written below each image, the most recent of which occurred in 2010. At first glance, these photographs are remarkable for their tranquility — and, in contrast to much of Joshua’s work, the absence of people in the frame. The portraits of the trees, in particular, are regal and betray no hint of the brutality that haunts them. With nothing to commemorate the lives taken there, these sites occupy a secret history unknown to those who may pass by. Inspired by the Emmett Till Memorial Highway in Mississippi, commemorating the Chicago teenager murdered in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman, Joshua aims to create a similar memorial to these events in the belief that reckoning with this history and its victims is a necessary step toward collective healing.”
The small image above is from Without Sanctuary. It’s an incredible and disturbing but important book that was used as reference material for my project. Below is the image I made in the exact spot where this lynching occurred in 1906.
The other series on display was from a baby beauty pageant I shot in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I thought this series is relevant to the mission of the SfDM in how living with the art affects the family on a daily basis-this is one of the core concepts of the gallery. The Topcik’s have two young daughters so the ideas of femininity, sexuality and notions of beauty are ones they are starting to deal with on a daily basis and thats what this body of work addresses.
Here is another excerpt from Heathers piece on the Baby Beauty Pageant series:“In contrast to the solemnity of the lynching series, the four photos that make up the Baby Beauty Pageant series are all color and tackiness; yet they depict a more subtle violence. During his southern sojourn, Joshua happened upon a baby beauty pageant in a small town in Mississippi. After talking his way into the event and roaming for about an hour, he was ejected by officials, but not before capturing some compelling moments. These images depict the kind of crude enforcement of the gender roles that appear marginal and quirky in a small town beauty pageant like this one, yet as Frank Rich describes in his 1997 essay on our national obsession with JonBenet Ramsay, beauty pageants like these are big business in the U.S. and the themes and messages about gender and sexuality as acted out by their tiny participants have made their way into the culture writ large.”
One of the most engaging and enjoyable aspects of the SfDM shows is the salon that takes place during the opening (as well as the myriad of delectable food that Joel always crafts, this one being Southern themed). I passed around Without Sanctuary and discussed my trip and reasons for the work. Then a lively discussion ensued on this disturbing and unreckoned part of our countries history. We then lightened it up with the beauty pageant series which turned out to be also depressing. Another excerpt from Heather’s article on the salon. She is a modern day Gertrude Stein, god bless her.“In our comfortable domestic setting, the theme of the conversation that evening was violence, from the overt violence of the public lynchings to the subtle violence that happens when you dress up your toddler in a ball gown and tiara (or a bathing suit!) and parade her down the catwalk. My favorite thing about these openings has been the conversation that happens around the work. What starts as a party with food, drinks, and small talk evolves into an earnest discussion about art and ideas, devoid of irony. The kind that can be hard to find sometimes.”