The exhibition Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North provides overlooked reflections of Black experience with objects that range from the late seventeenth century to the pre–Civil War era. One of them is an extraordinary autobiographical landscape representing Pedro Tovookan Parris’s memories of his voyage from the eastern coast of Africa to the United States. This watercolor survives as a singular pictorial document, recording firsthand the memory of the displacements caused by slavery. Another artwork in the exhibition is Sarah Ann Major Harris’ genealogical sampler where she records the details of her family history. Made at a time when she and other Black students in Connecticut were barred from attending school, this needlework is a powerful emblem of one young woman’s bravery and perseverance in the face of racism.
Drawing from his familial knowledge of textiles, artist Gary Tyler creates quilt tableaux to reflect on his life’s journey: from being wrongly accused of murder at age 16 in 1974 to his release from Louisiana’ Angola prison 41 years later.
In this online program, Tyler will be in conversation with Allison Glenn, a curator and writer working at the intersection of art and public space. The speakers will discuss Tyler’s recent productions for his first solo exhibition “We Are the Willing” which was curated by Glenn in conjunction with Public Matter: New Forms at the Library Street Collective in Detroit in the summer 2023. This exhibition gave the artist the opportunity to think about his leadership and experience as president of the prison drama club for 28 years. Tyler relies on the space of performance to increase literacy, self-expression and agency.
In this program, the textile objects, landscape paintings and archives on view in the gallery will serve as a springboard for a broader consideration of the aftermath of slavery, and the persistence of anti-Black violence and racism in the present. Looking at the ways African American artists have revisited and reclaimed their own images and histories, this conversation will provide critical insights on racial equality, self-representation, and resistance.
About the speakers
Gary Tyler is a fiber artist, living and working in Los Angeles, California. For over four decades, Tyler has been working at the intersection of art and social justice, teaching himself how to quilt to support the Angola Prison Hospice program, where he was a volunteer. For three decades, Tyler was the President of the Angola Prison drama program, using the position to promote a culture of community, civic responsibility, and optimism. At the age of 16, Tyler was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Though his case was the subject of international outcry, the artist spent 42 years in Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, before being released at the age of 57. Although his artistic practice was born out of injustice, it eminently generates hope. Tyler is a 2019 and 2020 Art Matters Awardee, and his work is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C
Allison Glenn is a New York-based curator and writer focusing on the intersection of art and public space, through public art and special projects, biennials and major new commissions by a wide range of contemporary artists. She is also a Visiting Curator in the Department of Film Studies at the University of Tulsa. Previous roles include Co-Curator of Counterpublic Triennial 2023 and Senior Curator at New York’s Public Art Fund, where she proposed and initially developed Fred Eversley: Parabolic Light, on view through August 2024; Guest Curator at the Speed Art Museum, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Prospect New Orleans international art triennial Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp. She received dual master’s degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism and Arts Administration and Policy, and a Bachelor of Fine Art Photography with a co-major in Urban Studies from Wayne State University in Detroit. Glenn is a member of Madison Square Park Conservancy’s Public Art Consortium Collaboration Committee, and sits on the Board of Directors for ARCAthens, a curatorial and artist residency program based in Athens, Greece and the Bronx, New York.
Space is limited; advance registration is required. Please consider making a donation when you register to support ongoing virtual programming.
Instructions for joining with a Zoom link and password will be provided by email upon registration confirmation under “Additional Information.” Closed captioning will be provided in English. For questions or to request accessibility accommodations, please email email@example.com
Left: Sarah Ann Major Harris (later Fayerweather) (1812-1878), Sampler, Norwich Area, Connecticut, c. 1826-1828, Silk on linen, 20 3/8 x 19 1/3 in. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, museum purchase with funds drawn from the Centenary Fund, 2017.0032 A, B. / Middle: Installation view of We Are the Willing, Gary Tyler’s solo exhibition, July 8th-September 6th 2023, Library Street Collective, Detroit. Courtesy of the artist and Library Street Collective. / Right: Gary Tyler in the studio preparing for his exhibition at Library Street Collective, opening on July 8th, 2023. Images by Dorian Hill. Courtesy of the artist and Library Street Collective.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art, with additional support from, the American Folk Art Society, Citi, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, David and Dixie De Luca, Susan and James Hunnewell, the Robert Lehman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and Elizabeth and Irwin Warren.