Spotlight on Intersections@5: Allan deSouza

The Phillips celebrates the fifth anniversary of its Intersections contemporary art series with Intersections@5, an exhibition comprising work by 20 of the participating artists. In this blog series, each artist writes about his or her work on view.

deSouza_World Series

Installation view of Allan deSouza’s The World Series (2012)

Allan deSouza’s The World Series (2012), was inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s iconic 1941 Migration Series. While Lawrence’s paintings document the historical migration of African Americans from the South to Northern cities, deSouza presents a visual “script” for a fictional migration to becoming American, seen through the signage and psychology of metaphorical and political sites. Merging the past into the present, deSouza captures what might seem to be otherwise fleeting moments to stage possible futures that speak to the real effects of time and migration within the contemporary world. The four images here, from the full sequence of 60 photographs, depict pivotal points in deSouza’s “script,” in which his fictional migrant undergoes literal rites of passage, moving from one location and one time period to another.

Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 24

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

Struggle_Panel 24

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 24: Of the Senate House, the President’s Palace, the barracks, the dockyard…nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins…—A British Officer at Washington, 1814 (Burning of Washington DC August 24, 1814), 1956. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Of the Senate House, the President’s Palace, the barracks, the dockyard… nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins– A British officer at Washington, 1814 (1956)

The War of 1812 moved to the capital when British troops arrived in Washington on August 24, 1814, without encountering much resistance. That evening, they began the systematic destruction of all public buildings, including the White House and the Capitol. It was said that the city was swallowed in flames that could be seen miles away.

Lawrence’s depiction of the Burning of Washington focuses on the violence and destruction with the canons firing against a dark, smoke-filled sky. A dash of red dripping from one of the cannons adds to the destructive nature of the scene. Off to the left corner of the panel is the corpse of a small bird, still bleeding. The only indication of what this panel is about comes from the title and the caption, which is a quote from a British soldier’s eyewitness account. This panel was completed in 1956, when the Montgomery bus boycott ended successfully. Prior to this successful conclusion, in February 1956, Martin Luther King’s house was bombed. An analogy can be made between the bombing of King’s house and the destruction of Washington in 1814. King was one of the central figures of the boycott; the bombing of his house with the intention of killing him was a certain attempt to cut off the source of inspirations and support of the African American communities to continue fighting for their rights.

Phuong Nguyen

Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 23

Struggle_Panel 23

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 23: if we fail, let us fail like men, and expire together in one common struggle . . .— Henry Clay, 1813, 1956. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

…If we fail, let us fail like men, and expire together in one common struggle…–Henry Clay

Depicted here is the solitary American seaman described in Henry Clay’s 1813 speech which called for action against British violation of U.S. maritime rights. Clay was a prominent War Hawk, distinguished as those who favored war with the British. In his speech, Clay declared that America must stand up for the rights of their sailors.

The sailor’s face reveals his excruciating death just seconds after a sword pierces his eye, as his own weapon collapses from his lifeless hand. Lawrence’s use of the part to represent the whole allows the viewer to associate the invisible assailant with the unfolding scene without having to explicitly present him.

The image is accompanied by an abridged version of a quote from the full text of Henry Clay’s speech in 1813. Jacob Lawrence chose this particular quote to complement the dramatic image because it emphasizes that the “one common struggle,” even though it may be from different times and for different people, calls for sacrifice and dedication in the same way.

Amy Woo and Andrea Goldstein