Marjory Wilkins, Early Black & White photographs
copyright Marjory Wilkins
Opening Reception – Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 6pm
Curated by Nancy Keefe Rhodes this is an exhibit of 35 restored and finished prints of both the now extinct 15th Ward and others of historical relevance to both the African American community and the Syracuse community at large. Marjory Wilkins has been an important figure in our community for over six decades, inspiring many through her camera’s view of the world. Her work is described by the exhibit curator in this way, “As documentary photographs they record history, whether recent or remote, that is‘minority’ history – that is, history often, outside of its own community, either ignored or contested by stereotypes.” Her photography has become an invaluable resource to remember a place now destroyed, and a community with a charm and importance almost unknown to those outside of it.
Special Exhibit Events
7pm – Tuesday, May 11 & Th3 Thursday, May 20
“Photo Restoration, History and Art”
A presentation by exhibit curator Nancy Keefe Rhodes
In 2008, Nancy Keefe Rhodes, an arts journalist and writer for the City Eagle, received a Light Work grant to prepare an exhibit of photographs by Marjory Wilkins. As part of this project, she interviewed Mrs. Wilkins at length and with her assistance culled a selection of her early black & white photos, illustrating the premise that making photos was a substantially more wide-spread activity in the African American community than many might think. The result was an exhibition of 20 photographs at the Light Work gallery. The ArtRage exhibition offers, for the first time, a showing of the complete Light Work group of Wilkins’ photos. The original 20 printed for the Light Work Gallery are joined by prints of the remaining images, which have just been printed in their restored form.
While the exhibition includes photographs from Syracuse’s 15th Ward, it is larger than that subject. The photographs evoke the presence of the African American photographer documenting a personal and social side of life not depicted in the media or counter-culture of the time. Rhodes explains, “As documentary photographs they record history, whether recent or remote, that is ‘minority’ history – that is, history often, outside of its own community, either ignored or contested by stereotypes.”
There is no doubt that part of the excitement of this exhibit has to do with an area of the city that no longer exists: the 15th Ward. Marjory Wilkins’s photographs portray a once vibrant neighborhood torn down to make room for I-81 to be built through the “heart” of Syracuse. Oddly enough, it seems that the 15th Ward was itself the “heart”, and now, decades later, I-81 is still seen as a concrete scar separating the university on the hill from the city below.
At least 78 people were arrested from September 13th to 20th, 1963, for protesting the demolition of the 15th Ward. They had participated in “sit-ins” at urban renewal sites on State Street, Harrison Street and Townsend Street organized by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and the NAACP to stop the demolition work. Demonstrators protested the relocation of Ward residents into other “Negro” areas and low-rent districts, where 18 out of 19 landlords in Syracuse still reject a family who fill all the necessary requirements except one — the color of their skin.
Marjory and Nancy