February 4, 2016
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Adelphi University, Department of Art and Art History, Art Galleries

Photography as Catalyst


by Daniel Rossi '16

Photography is an art form that’s changed the way we look at the world, and has led to great social change. The last few years have been especially troubling, with what felt like an endless series of police brutality cases opening discussions on race, racism and identity in America.

On February 2, 2016, assistant professor of art and art history Hannah Allen hosted a panel discussion and official opening of Looking Through: Photography, Race & Identity, her first Adelphi art exhibition as curator. The exhibit features three contemporary artists whose bold photography presents an interesting commentary on race and identity.

The medium itself proves essential to the impact of these images. Stacey Tyrell, one of the artists, described how “even if you go back to the civil rights movement, photography is fundamental to carrying the message of that movement.” She went on to say that “we work with one of the greatest tools to stimulate political change.”

Photograph by Gareth Smit

Almost a year after the death of Eric Garner, a small group of protesters led by his family members meet occasionally to demonstrate against police brutality and in demand for justice. Garner’s 65 year old mother, Gwen Carr, still attends many of these protests.
Picture: Gareth Smit

Allen chose these three particular artists because each came from a different school of photography. “Their work couldn’t be more different,” she explained, “and yet they overlap in a lot of ways.” Allen’s curatorial statement describes the work of Gareth Smit, “who works from a documentary tradition, has been photographing Eric Garner’s community in the wake of his death.” Stacey Tyrell is a black artist who uses makeup and special effects to transform herself into her white Scottish ancestors. The third artist is Shikeith, who uses his dramatic black-and-white photos and short film “#BlackMenDream” to challenge conceptions of black masculinity.

Shikeith explained how “very often, when it comes to the black community, there can only be one voice.” He went on to describe how important it is to let a diverse set of voices within the black community be heard. “It’s about giving a voice to the voiceless.” Regardless, each artist has stories of mixed, and often negative reactions to their work.

Smit is a white photographer from South Africa, and when he learned about the protests and controversy surrounding police brutality, he saw an opportunity to document and analyze the situation. “We have our own instances of police brutality, very much attached to race, so I started to notice a lot of a parallels between what was happening in American society and South Africa,” Smit explained. “It’s very difficult to photograph in your own back yard, and in some ways, coming to approach the story here as a foreigner made it that much easier to then dissect my own society back home.”

Looking Through: Photography, Race, and Identity will be on display in the first floor University Center gallery on Adelphi’s Garden City campus until March 6, 2016.

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Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Adelphi University, Department of Art and Art History, Art Galleries