I was recently in Newcastle and went to four exhibitions on broadly similar themes – the issues of racism, sexism and civil rights.
Starless Midnight and Until, Until, Until …. 2016
The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.
Starless Midnight is in homage to the work of Martin Luther King in his role as promoter of the Civil Rights movement and points up how, although there has been much progress, there is still so much more to do. Nine artists are featured, all with their personal take on the ongoing issues, and is co-curated by Edgar Arceneaux. His video installation ‘Until, Until, Until …. 2016’ is also shown in the Baltic at present. This installation is a large-scale video presentation on a transparent screen though which you can see another screen showing a fractured vision of the original work. the gallery describes it as:
The scale of the installation – larger than life-size – and the interesting back story make a piece that is difficult to watch without an emotional reaction.
Two parts of the exhibition that I found particularly poignant were the works of Hinkle and the Gallery Tally.
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle shows a number of drawing from an ongoing series – ‘The Evanesced’ which looks at the multiplicity of Black women who have been erased from history, for instance by trafficking or murder.
These images are shown along a wall, en masse, described as ‘un-portraits’. Unless you examine them carefully all the women look similar. It is easy to miss the fine detail that turn them to individual people. It was easy to miss the individual disappearances too.
Michol Hebron presents the work from a collaborative project, Gallery Tally, where data is collected in the form of posters to show the representation of women in art galleries and museums. The posters are widely varied, and talk not only about the paucity of women artists on show, but also about the lack of work by other marginalised communities. The work by women photographers has been widely discussed recently for example in ‘Girl on Girl’ (Jansen, 2017) and the ‘Photoworks Annual 22 – Women’ – but it is shocking to realise that there is such a wide-ranging lack of equality ongoing in the wider art field. I only saw one (top right) where there were more females represented than males.
Posters from the Gallery Tally Project – attributions unavailable.
Gordon Parks – A Choice of Weapons and Syd Shelton – Rock Against Racism.
Side Gallery – Newcastle.
Gordon Parks (1912 – 2006) was an African-American photographer who said, ‘I chose my camera as a weapon against all the things I dislike about America – poverty, racism, discrimination’ (quoted in the exhibition information at the Side Gallery – Amber, 2017). He initially worked for the Farm Security Administration and then went on to become a freelance photographer and film-maker, documenting the difficulties black people faced in the USA. This exhibition shows a selection of his work both in colour and black and white, together with the film on the Fonetenelle family, from Harlem, who lived in extreme poverty. The images are detailed, dark and claustrophobic, leaving nothing to the imagination, even brutal at times. The story is shocking, but similar scenes could be found today.
The coloured images are from a photo-essay published in Life entitled “The Restraints: Open and Hidden” and point up how the lives of black people were segregated from the those of the white Americans. They appear softer, even ‘charming’ until you look closely and read the signs. This is an interesting use of colour photography in an era when most images were still in monochrome. Colour images were only widely used from the 70’s when promoted by photographers such as William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz.
Syd Shelton (born 1947) was one of the prime photographers of the movement Rock Against Racism (RAR), which was developed by a collective of musicians, artists and activists to fight fascism and racism through music. There was a large exhibition shown in London at Autograph APB in 2015 and a small number of the images are shown in the Side Gallery. They are taken two decades on from the images of Gordon Parks but talk about the same issues of black versus white culture and perceived rights, this time in Britain rather than the USA. Shelton used his photography for a similar purpose ‘as a graphic argument …. a subjective witness’ (quoted in the exhibition information at the Side Gallery – Amber, 2017).
Although both the present exhibitions at the Side Gallery talk about the same issues, civil rights, racism and the abuse of power they come from a very different stance. Shelton was born in the UK and studied art at university before going on to become a photographer, working as a photojournalist. His images are from the outside, looking in, mainly of angry young people protesting on behalf of injustice in racism. Gordon Parks came from a poor farming family in the USA, he eventually ended up on the streets and taught himself photography, eventually working with the FSA, before becoming a photojournalist. His images are from the inside, looking out, of the people themselves, and what they were going though at the time.
While both sets of images have a powerful impact Parks’s have a greater degree of empathy and emotion, less factual but more revealing.
Amber. (2017). Side Gallery – Amber. [online] Available at: http://www.amber-online.com/side-gallery/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
Jansen, C. (2017). Girl on girl : art and photography in the age of the female gaze. London: Laurence King.
Mill, B. (2017). Edgar Arceneaux :: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.. [online] Balticmill.com. Available at: http://www.balticmill.com/whats-on/edgar-arceneaux [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
Mill, B. (2017). Starless Midnight :: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.. [online] Balticmill.com. Available at: http://www.balticmill.com/whats-on/starless-midnight [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].
Photoworks Team (2017). Photoworks Annual 22.