There is nothing OK about this picture. So why did I make it?
Let’s start with a quick history lesson on the photograph itself. The man in the photograph, is a man, and his name is Gordon. Gordon was enslaved in a Louisiana plantation. He escaped in 1863, gaining freedom upon his arrival at a Union camp near Baton Rouge. It was here he met members of the Abolitionist movement and bravely agreed to have his scars photographed for indisputable evidence of slavery abuse. This image would be included in a pamphlet that would be distributed world wide.
Fast forward, over 150 years to 2015 and you will find a young artist sharing Gordon’s story and showing the picture to his peers over beers, coffee, and everywhere in between. I was so inspired by Gordon. He sat for this photo, as a free man, with strength knowing that this photograph will help end slavery and act as an eternal reminder of how poorly man had treated man. But, what I found out while sharing this story was that many people I spoke with had never seen this photo before. I decided to take action and do what I could to help share Gordon’s story and ensure it is never forgotten.
I made a series of work silk screening Gordon’s photograph over backgrounds of Gold and Silver, for slaves were bought with gold and silver as well as bought to earn gold and silver for slave owners. I wanted to acknowledge the gold and silver motif with Gordon’s picture to question, “Is this (Gordon and his abusive treatment) worth gold and silver?” Unfortunately, the answer was “Yes” in the 1800’s but “Yes” can never be the answer again. If we want to make sure this never happens again, we can never forget it happened.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend thousands of my own dollars, dollars I didn’t really have at the age 24, getting this work to one of the biggest stages the art world has to offer, Art Basel: Miami. The work was viewed by tens of thousands of visitors and the work was, to no surprise, controversial but successfully created strong dialogue and you could see the impact left on people’s faces as they walked away. They were unsettled, uncomfortable, surprised, and all races expressed a bit of shame, including myself, in knowing that our species could do such a thing to our own species.
After extensive showing, the work was eventually auctioned off benefiting multiple charities including the Texas Civil Rights Project.