Campell exhibit explores themes of vulnerability and prejudice

Through Sept. 21, Phillips Hall’s Alexander Hogue Gallery will host the mixed-media exhibition, “Take Only Pictures, Kill Only Time, Leave Only Bubbles,” by visiting artist Crystal Campbell.
The exhibit includes archival images, projections, video and sound works and sculpture. Last Thursday the exhibit’s opening reception included a lecture by Campbell in the Jerri Jones Lecture Hall, where she not only answered questions regarding her current exhibit, but discussed past works of hers and the inspiration behind them.
Campbell, a woman of color, made race and gender a recurring topic of the lecture. Many of her works intend to focus on the vulnerability of her identity. Some of the most interesting materials stemmed from her interest in the figure of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta was an African-American woman whose cancer cells were used posthumously as the source for the HeLa cell line. Though her cell line was immortalized, in life she was treated in a segregated hospital. The irony of Henrietta Lacks genes making her a victim of racial segregation, while her cells were sent to space, was not lost on Campbell, who honored her memory by placing her cells upon diamond.
Campbell, a native of Oklahoma, was also interested in the Tulsa Race Riots (or Tulsa Race Massacre). Particularly she wanted to draw people’s attention to what had been destroyed in the event rather than the destruction of the event itself. One photo of the area before the massacre depicted a towering pile of lumber, whose colors had been edited by Campbell to emphasize them. The wood, she explained, had to be bought from a separate supplier than the nearby city of Tulsa, who refused to sell to them. It was just one example, she said, of how the town was forced to make its own success.
Her lecture included also a few disturbing photos of Jim Jones and his followers. The cult leader, who infamously slew his followers with poisonous kool-aid in Jonestown, preyed upon the vulnerable. This is obvious in the photos Campbell featured in her lecture, as he is often surrounded with foster children, racial minorities and the elderly. One particularly stirring photo featured an old black woman with a raised sign: “I believe in Jim Jones.” In a rather experimental exploration of this cult, Campbell organized a crowd to navigate a dark city with blindfolds on, guided by an operatic interpretation of Jim Jones’ last message to his followers.
Another historical photo in her lecture was of reverend Al Sharpton outside of New York City’s Slave Theatre. The building, as the picture suggested, had once been a bastion of African-American art and culture. When she visited the theatre a few years ago, it was completely abandoned, save squatters. She recovered from it a roll of film and, after some time, was able to view its contents. Some shots from the film, she noted, resembled other famous works of art; others were wholly unique. Now the film, and the theatre itself, stand as an example of what happens when we don’t work to preserve art, particularly when it is the expression of an oppressed group.
Campbell’s art encompasses a wide range, to say the least. Probably this description of just a few of her works will help very little in deciphering much of the art currently on display at Phillips Hall. Then again, with the exhibit open and free to students, maybe it’s best that interested observers stop by to interpret the pieces for themselves.

Post Author: Trenton Gibbons