Student artist looks to start new conversation on slavery

Mark Taitt stands in front of one of his pieces. Taitt Photoshopped pictures of slaves he found at the New York Public Library in a project aiming to glorify them.  (Tasigh Greenidge-James | The Oswegonian)
Mark Taitt stands in front of one of his pieces. Taitt Photoshopped pictures of slaves he found at the New York Public Library in a project aiming to glorify them. (Tasigh Greenidge-James | The Oswegonian)

The “Identity” exhibit was alive in every way at the opening ceremony Friday, March 28.

Between the photographs of humans and outdoor scenes, walking through the exhibit was not just a viewing, but also an experience for the senses, mind and self.

Upon entering the exhibit, the viewer is greeted by strong images of black slaves, which in itself is enough reason to stop in your tracks to take a look. The inner walls have framed, photoshopped photographs of slaves of different ages. The black and white photographs emit a haunting feeling due to the dramatic black and white photo.

Mark Taitt is a graduate student at Oswego State, studying graphic design, created the exhibit, titled “Identity,” as his final project.

Taitt Photoshopped all of the people to have a halo around the head, in order to glorify that person’s existence. In the Renaissance, kings, queens and people of higher status often were painted with halos. Taitt used this method to show that a slave could be just as important to a country as they were during the Renaissance period.

“Their hands sowed the earth,” Taitt said. “These are the people that built this country. My idea is to glorify them.”

The people in the photos have been Photoshopped in a way that it feels you can jump right into the picture, or extend out your hand to shake theirs. The photographs were so realistic and almost 3-dimensional that one couldn’t help but looking at the pictures from just inches away. The purpose is to show that these people are not to be swept under the rug in past history, but to be remembered as the people who built this country.

“These are your forefathers,” Taitt said.

The main image in the gallery is of a slave named Gordon. The photo is recovered from a physical assessment he took before going into the Civil War. His back is full of whip marks and is painful to look at. All of the other photos (retrieved from the New York Public Library) have people whose eyes are all looking in the direction of Gordon, an intentional move by Taitt.

Another intention of Taitt grouped the photos of separate people in a way they could be viewed as in a family. He wanted to target the idea of being a family, and even if the people in the pictures were not related. Taitt feels that a family dynamic is something that needs to be strengthened within the black community, and that there is a large disconnect within black families dating back to slavery.

“I want people to feel like this isn’t a conversation you shy away from,” Taitt said. “I’m not mad. I’m not some angry artist. I want to break down the idea of a slave. They weren’t sassy all the time. They were multi-faceted people.”

The outside walls were lined with brilliantly-colored photographs. The photos were taken by art department chair Cynthia Clabough. Photographs were of old slave quarters, outhouses, fields and landscaping from old plantation spots. The symmetry in the photographs was not only aesthetically pleasing, but created an intensity that heightened the rest of the show. Before exiting the row of landscape photos, there was a full-length mirror, where people were able to look at themselves and evaluate.

“For me, it’s really about capturing who you are inside and understand different people’s perception of who you are,” Devin Hu, spectator and friend of Taitt’s said.

On the flip side of the inner walls lined with the photographs of slaves, was a chalkboard wall, where people were encouraged to write a word that described themselves. People put their organization names, words of things they liked and titles. The most interesting one was simple – “middle- aged white woman.”

“You’re supposed to look at yourself in the mirror,’ Hu said. “Who are you? What would this exhibition be if this was a middle aged white woman? You must break down the face and become just a person.”

If a conversation about perceptual identity is what Taitt was trying to achieve, the spectators were indeed buzzing. The faces and fields of our country’s past and present is what Taitt used to show a nation that was molded by people who we often try to forget.