Artist Brings New Harlem Insights In Interactive Multimedia Art Installation
Thomas Allen Harris is celebrating Harlem in his latest art exhibition titled Mother, Bethel, Harlem, USA, a collaboration with students from the Hunter College IMA MFA program to build an interactive exhibition at the Hunter East Harlem Gallery (HEHG), opening Thursday, August 30. Through an investigation of Harris's extensive body of work as a photographer, filmmaker, and creator of the interdisciplinary project Digital Diaspora Family Reunion (DDFR), the students have conceived works that are inspired by the family photo album, practices of archiving, and the local community in Harlem and East Harlem.
Harris's own investigations of site and history began with an exploration of his personal relationship to Harlem. On view here is a remixing of his own work with the work of his grandfather, Albert S. Johnson, Jr., an amateur photographer who spent his life documenting the First AME Church: Bethel on 132nd Street and Lenox Ave. This curatorial process has led to the resurfacing of Harris's 1987 documentation of James Baldwin's funeral and is being exhibited for the first time in the HEHG gallery window.
In Mother, Bethel, Harlem, USA, Hunter's IMA MFA students directly respond to Harris's practice. Their projects explore familial artifacts, the relationship between photography and memory, and stories that are deeply rooted in the local community and participation. Together, Harris and the students create a network of sites with cultural, political, and spiritual significance that generate nonlinear narratives that visitors are invited to expand upon.
Since 2009, Harris has collected over 3,000 interviews and stories from people across the globe using DDFR, where the photograph is the central launchpad for personal narrative. In this newest art installation, materials and documentation that were taken of locals with their archives during a DDFR roadshow at NYC's Harlem Stage in 2011 are interwoven with Harris' family collections - photographs from the Bethel AME Church (also known as Mother Bethel) during the 1960s, as well as never-before-seen footage of Bethel and Harlem in 1940s, all found in his grandfather's archive. Glimpses of old Harlem are met with Harris's own documentation decades later of James Baldwin's funeral - a day of mourning and celebration of a Harlem icon, where many notable figures gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine are seen through Harris's lens - including Gordon Parks, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Ossie Davis, Cicely Tyson, as well as Baldwin's mother Emma Berdis Jones and his brother David Baldwin.
Investigations into historical visual materials like family albums, vintage photographs, archival film, and personal narratives become central to the development of Mother, Bethel, Harlem, USA. These archival materials illuminate the neighborhood's stories, giving shape to a history sourced directly from its residents. Students will remix and expand the archive within the gallery space using methodologies that Harris has been pioneering for over 25 years in his socially engaged, participatory, and experimental creative practice. The result is a dynamic exploration into themes of collective memory, transference, and renewal within movements and communities - a collaborative exhibition that runs until September 29, 2018.
Thomas Allen Harris is a critically acclaimed artist who uses film, video, photography, and performance to explore family and identity in a participatory model of filmmaking that he has been pioneering since 1990. His deeply personal films - VINTAGE- Families of Value (1995), É Minha Cara/That's My Face (2001), Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela (2005), Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (2014) - have received critical acclaim at international film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, FESPACO, Outfest, Flaherty, and Cape Town, and have been exhibited at the MoMA Documentary Fortnight, the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, the Gwangju Biennale and the Melbourne Arts Festival.
In 2009, Harris founded the interdisciplinary project and socially transformative organization Digital Diaspora Family Reunion (DDFR), through which he organizes and facilitates community photo-shares, performances, workshops, and exhibitions connecting people with their family archives. Harris was recently commissioned by Visual AIDS to create a short experimental video, About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer (2017), which had its premiere on World AIDS Day at the Whitney Museum of American Art and screened at over 100 institutions worldwide as part of Visual AIDS' 28th annual Day With(out) Art. A graduate of Harvard College and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, Harris has received Emmy and Peabody nominations, and numerous awards including a NAACP Image Award and an African Oscar, as well as Guggenheim, Rockefeller and United States Artist Fellowships. A member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Harris is a published writer and curator who lectures widely on the use of media as a tool for social change, personal archiving, and co-creating with communities. Harris is currently a Senior Lecturer at Yale University jointly appointed by African American Studies and Film & Media Studies.
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