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McCallum Tarry in today's Artvoice

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Works by Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry at the Burchfield Penney Art Center by Jack Foran

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Evidence of Things Not Seen

The dominant “look” of the art of Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry on show at the Burchfield Penney Art Center is a blur. You see but don’t quite see. Or double vision. As if from two perspectives. Oppressor and oppressed. Master and slave. And past and present. Sometimes the message seems to be about frustration and despair. Sometimes the reference is to faith and hope, as in the New Testament definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” One part of the exhibit is called The Evidence of Things Not Seen.

The work as a whole is about the struggles and plight of people of color and other poor and oppressed in this country from slave times through the civil rights period and continuing to the present day. Jacqueline Tarry grew up on the East Side of Buffalo, so there is lots of local reference, including a segment based on what looks to be 1950s to 1970s time period pages from black community newspaper The Challenger.

The blur effects are achieved in various ways. The The Evidence of Things Not Seen segment consists of superimposed double portraits from mug shots of people arrested in connection with the 1956 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott for cooperating with the boycott merely by opting not to ride the bus. The double portraits consist of oil paintings of each person arrested based on his or her mug shot photo, but without the arrest identification number, overlain by an exact reproduction of the mug shot, so including the identification number, about an inch above the oil portrait on a see-through silk screen.

"Show Me Where You Brought Me From, Clairborne, Alabama, 1945 (after Mrs. Sarah L. Tarry)."

Other works look like photographic double exposures. Like 3-D without the glasses.

Among the more effective and affecting segments, one consists of a number of black-veiled grave-marker-like stones inscribed with names and précis personal information about some individual black members of a majority white church that is unspecified as to name and location but apparently is or was an actual church and congregation. The black individuals in most cases are lauded for their steadfast personal qualities, including an ostensive quiet tenacity in the face of probably more difficult personal circumstances than most of the majority members faced, and on that basis accepted as prized members of the congregation. But in a few cases, black individuals of perhaps less tractable temperament were obliged to separate from the present church and join an all-black church. For example, Betsey Johnson, who was “dismissed to the African church,” particulars not provided, or Lazette Lewis, whose marker legend says she was “not disposed to be governed by the same rules and regulations that governed other negroes. Her dismissal to the African Church was marked by ecclesiastical controversies and by social and political changes, which led to the formation of a second church, the establishment of a separate worship.”

Another piece is an elaborate bronze gateway for a cemetery on the SUNY Purchase campus, a plot wherein the landowner family up to the year 1835 buried family members and servants, that is, slaves. The slaves are in unmarked graves, but their burial locations have been discovered through investigations using ground-penetrating radar, and some of their identities learned through research into family members’ wills and other documents, which sometimes mention servants by name. Solid-sculptural lettering on the gateway door reads: “Looking for: a negro wench named Dinah, a boy named John, one girl named Poll, a girl Hannah, and a boy Tim, and a negro man Julius, who served faithfully. He was not sold but was allowed to stay on the land.” Presumably reproducing language from the wills and other documents.

While from another perspective, literally, in the sense of reading in the opposite direction, and so properly from the other side of the door, and in negative cut-out lettering in a solid door panel, but above all with a wholly different, negative flavor of “looking for,” text taken presumably from a fugitive poster: “Looking for a runaway called Joe, about 35 years of age, near 6 feet high, of a yellowish complexion, wore a brown cloth jacket, a woolen shirt, and leather breeches.”

There are several video works, video projects. One consists of heartbreaking interviews with people of various non-white shades, a son or brother of whom was shot by police for no credible reason, according to the interviewees, and another of hour-long interviews, condensed to five minutes each, of homeless young people standing on a street corner in Seattle, unmoving for the duration of the interview, in protest of a Seattle ordinance, presumably against loitering, that makes standing or sitting motionless a crime. The civil disobedience theme connects with other materials on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the Montgomery bus boycott.

The McCallum and Tarry exhibit continues through January 20.