The feet of my adult life were planted in the 1950s and 1960s, two of the most tumultuous, dynamic and far-reaching decades of the century for the United States. We, the invisible people of this society, took our power and found our voice. In doing so, millions of others dared to lay claim to their own vision and identity.
This project evolved during an artist in residency at the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) and Pyramid Atlantic. I was returning to the area of my upbringing and exploring its civil rights history. I sought to understand, through recollection and investigation, how my life of protest and struggle had influenced my values and had made the next generation of my people fearful and materialistic. I interviewed, on audio and videotape, numerous people including my family, neighbors, congress people, and other civil rights activists. I searched through libraries and archives for old news and images that were buried in my psyche. I wrote to hundreds of people around the country, asking them to “be a witness” to those times by sending me a story, a poem, or an incident from their lives. Over a hundred people responded.
From this investigation, I created an installation that explored the legacy of the civil rights movement through oral histories, images, and archival sources. Viewers entered a field of information that included a time line spanning the mid 1950s to June 1991 when Witness to Dissent: Remembrance and Struggle opened at the WPA. Other items included images and letters mailed to me, those made by viewers at the site, computer printed scans of old news photographs, personal mementos from the period, summaries of sixteen Civil Rights Bills, and interviews with community activists videotaped by Philip Brookman and Debra Singer.
By reexamining my memories and experiences and collecting the stories of others, I aim to reclaim the flesh and blood reality of an era obscured by the impassiveness of official history.
The installation traveled to Art In General, New York City and Carlton College, Northfield Minnesota.