Bridges & Barriers
September 25 @ 10:00 am - November 14 @ 4:00 pm
Virtual Panel Discussion: Through Our Lens: Photography as a Tool of Social Justice: Saturday, October 10th 1:00 – 2:30pm
Gallery Hours: Wednesday – Friday, 10am – 4pm, Saturday, 12pm – 4pm. Free admission. No tickets necessary. CLICK HERE to review our visitor safety guidelines
Cleveland is more than a city, it’s an environment. Its streets, neighborhoods and monuments shape our reality, setting up expectations and impacting outcomes with every square inch of brick and concrete. This September, the Artists Archives welcomes Bridges and Barriers, a photography invitational which uses the physical landscape of the city to explore the obstacles which face its people and the connections they forge to overcome.
The exhibition features regional artists Stephen Bivens, Jef Janis, Chuck Mintz, Lauren Pacini, and Shooting without Bullets, a for-impact organization which deploys artistic activism to break down the systemic barriers which prevent Black and Brown youth from thriving. This dynamic body of work spans traditional analog photography, video projections, and multimedia installations, while tackling such important themes as voting access, racial equity protests, foreclosure, homelessness, and immigration.
A highlight of the exhibition is Keep Me Posted, a multimedia installation featuring sound, photography, and hip-hop performance that “juxtaposes the precariousness of Black life and radical resistance against the forces that threaten it, seen through the lens of Shooting Without Bullets.” Founded in 2016 by artist/activist Amanda D. King, Shooting Without Bullets is an educational artist collective that feeds into a production company which prepares its participants for careers in the creative field. “These talented young adults, ages 18 – 21, engage in valuable experiential learning opportunities, provide creative services to the public, and produce original works… spanning the disciplines of photography, film, music, hip-hop performance, design, and more.”
Crafted specifically for the exhibition, Keep Me Posted is a creative exploration of movement, not just movement through Cleveland’s neighborhoods as young people of color, but also movement through the digital world, and involvement in social movements including removing barriers to voting, and recent protests against police brutality. The work is direct and immediate, combining the candy like aesthetics of Instagram and TiKTok with an immutable cry for social justice. King describes, “We are not here to ask nicely for equity, or to evoke empathy. We are here to take up space. To make our voices heard.” Exhibiting Shooting without Bullets artists will include visual artists Jasmine Banks (age 19) and Lai Lai Bonner (19), and Hip-hop artists James Banks (JB- 19), Maurice Philpott (Los P- 20) and Shatara Jordan (Mixxedrose- 18).
From the loss of industry to environmental disaster, Cleveland has come back from more calamities than it can count. One of the greatest challenges was the collapse of the housing market in 2007. Considered one of the early epicenters, the effects of the crisis can still be seen today in the boarded-up windows which disrupt communities from East Cleveland to Westpark.
On display in Bridges and Barriers will be 3 installations from Chuck Mintz’s series, Every Place – I Have Ever Lived. The Foreclosure Crisis in 12 Neighborhoods. These 2’ x 2’ constructions feature images of abandon homes mounted on “cheap plywood”, with alternate views revealed by rolling down vintage window shades. Accompanying these are factsheets containing personal history side by side with sobering demographics of each neighborhood. As Mintz describes,
“The pieces in this project each contain images of a foreclosed home in the 12 neighborhoods I’ve lived. Many were built after wars, in times of what seemed like boundless economic growth. Home ownership had become symbolic of The American Dream…. You cannot tell this story without considering changes in population, race and economics… In Every Place, the original concept was to show how this crisis reaches beyond the very poor and is, in fact, a problem for all of us.”
A particularly salient moment for Mintz occurred as he returned to the site of his childhood home. “In the end, I didn’t know what to think. When I visited a few weeks ago, it had been torn down. It was disturbing. You expect these things to age and change, maybe deteriorate. But disappear? This feels like a war on the idea of the family home. It is easy to see who lost. I have no idea who won.” Despite the unsettling experience, Mintz was able to find hope just a few miles away. He describes “Four years ago we realized that, with both kids long gone, we could move only constrained by distance from jobs and my son’s home in University Heights. We felt that living by the lake would be worth the bother and discovered the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. Two years ago, my daughter announced she was moving back to Cleveland from Chicago and now lives nearby. Here, there is a feeling that things are only getting better.”
Prior to the pandemic, Cleveland had been described as experiencing a sort of Renaissance, with torrents of resources being poured into developing new businesses and housing stock. While many communities tout this revitalization, it is important to examine who benefits from development and who ultimately pays its price.
On view in the exhibition is a powerful series by Cleveland artist Jef Janis which documents the devastating effects of the Irish Bend Stabilization and Restoration Project on the local homeless population. In 2017, millions of dollars in federal funding was allocated for the creation of a 17-acre park, slated to cover most of the riverbed of West 25th Street from Detroit Ave to Columbus Road. This project included a $49 million hillside-stabilization effort of an area where a community of individuals experiencing homelessness lived, “some for upwards of 20 years.” Though alarm bells were raised, many residents were forcibly displaced by a 2019 clean-up effort which destroyed their possessions and left them without shelter. Janis felt called to record the event. He describes,
“Last summer while doing a great deal of street photography, I was informed that the homeless community down in the flats was being forcefully removed. All the people that were living in this makeshift community had been arrested or runoff and a group of individuals were cleaning up the area. I felt this was something that needed to be documented, I was compelled to be there.” The result is a collection of elegant black and white photographs which capture mountains of personal belongings being shoveled into garbage bags by volunteers with cheerful matching t-shirts. Heart-rending and conflicting, these images show how an overlooked riverbed can become a tangible reminder of the all-too-human toll of development.
Also on view in Bridges and Barriers is a series of work by Lauren Pacini which celebrates Cleveland’s diverse immigrant population by reflecting on one its architectural gems – the Cultural Gardens. The Gardens were established in 1916 with the Shakespeare Garden (now known as the British Garden) by Leo Weidenthal, editor and publisher of the Jewish Independent newspaper. Today, the nearly 40 gardens represent a physical curation of city’s rich legacy of immigration, a model of inclusion rather than assimilation, where different communities are linked by “paths of peace.”
So too does it represent a complicated history, with spaces for Asian, African, and Latin American groups carved out much later than their European counterparts. Featured in the exhibition is a striking image of the African American Cultural Garden to acknowledge those who were brought to this country by force. Pacini’s artful photograph of the Past Pavilion shows the predominately black neighborhood which it borders peeking through its columns, a forceful reminder of the living, breathing community it represents.
Pacini, a black and white, architectural photographer, is as intrinsically tied to the regional as the monuments he depicts. He explains, “As an artist and local history author I strive to understand the story behind the subject matter and to convey that story through my work. I have felt driven to tell the story of the industrial city. I was seven years old when I moved to Cleveland…The never-say-die spirit of its citizens who have not seen a baseball or football championship since 1964 leads Clevelanders to unshakable belief in next year. While I am all too aware of the city’s signs of death, I have been driven to tell another story – one of hope – of rebirth, documenting the renovation, restoration.”
IN HONOR OF STEPHEN BIVENS: Bridges and Barriers will also pay tribute to the late photographer Stephen Bivens, who was slated to exhibit prior to his passing in June. Respected and beloved by the Cleveland arts community, Bivens became known for his elegant portraits of the city and its people. As his wife Jennifer Bivens describes, “Stephen lived a life of disarming simplicity. He was quiet. But when he spoke – wisdom was present. I think that’s why so many loved him… He used his camera as his voice. A bridge. A means of connection. Stephen lived all over the world, but he loved Cleveland- and Cleveland loved him.” On display will be 3 black and white photographs featuring innovative views of Cleveland’s steel bridges. “Bridges were a favorite subject of Stephen’s,” Jennifer explains, “He was fascinated by them. Their strength. Their beauty. Thoughts of unity and possibility. A transition from one space or place into the next.” All proceeds from the sale of his work will benefit the Cleveland Print Room, where Bivens was a Teaching Artist, and a student scholarship fund has been established in his name.
A virtual opening reception will be held on Friday, September 25th, 7:00 – 8:30pm on Zoom which features a preview of the exhibition, remarks by the artists and Jennifer Bivens, the wife of the late photographer Stephen Bivens, as well as a vibrant, multidisciplinary performance by Shooting without Bullets that blends hip hop, dance and spoken word. The exhibition, virtual reception, and program are free and open to the public. Gallery Hours: Wed – Fri, 10am – 4pm. Saturday: 12pm – 4pm. Click here to read more about our visitor safety protocol.
To accompany Bridges and Barriers, the Artists Archives will host Through Our Lens: Photography as a Tool of Social Justice, a virtual panel discussion on Saturday, October 10th, 1-2:30pm. Images have taken a powerful place in the fight against police brutality. From documenting crimes against people of color, to increasing the visibility of protests, mass access to cell phones and digital photography have fundamentally changed the nature of representation.
This powerful program will investigate the ability of images to create social change, the new face of representation, as well as discuss potential pitfalls of this now ubiquitous media. Panelists include Amanda King, Founder/Creative Director of Shooting without Bullets, Barbara Tannenbaum, Chair of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and Curator of Photography, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and Dr. Nicole Fleetwood, Professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers University. Fleetwood is also curator of Prison Nation, a traveling photography exhibition which depicts the “hidden” American prison population, fostering empathy and political awareness to facilitate systemic change. The program will be moderated by Cleveland artist and activist Kristi Copez. Through Our Lens will be free and open to the public. Registration links will be available on artistsarchives.org