Spider Martin Civil Rights photos highlight exhibition at Boca Raton Museum of Art

The Boca Raton Museum of Art presents Myths, Secrets, Lies, and Truths: Photography from the Doug McCraw Collection (on view June 12 ‒ October 13) featuring five artists:  Sheila Pree Bright, Liesa Cole, Karen Graffeo, Spider Martin, and Hank Willis Thomas. The exhibition of 100+ works from the Doug McCraw Collection is an original presentation by the Museum and was curated by Kathleen Goncharov, the Museum’s Senior Curator.

The works explore themes of survival, exposure, concealment, exploitation, race, and cultural-defining design. They include still photography and installations, capturing moments that transcend boundaries of insight, and reveal how fabricated myths can shape our perceptions and distort our beliefs. 

Doug McCraw is the co-founder of one of South Florida’s cultural gems, the FATVillage Arts District which promotes creativity, artist residences, exhibitions, research, and education.

About the Photographs

Sheila Pree Bright presents works from her Young Americans series, in which she invited young people, of all backgrounds and in cities across the country, to pose with the flag in ways that felt comfortable (while recording their personal stories of what the flag means to each of them). 

Bright wanted this series to focus on diverse young Americans who are new to the voting system, and who are still exploring ideas of what it means to be American. In some ways, this series by Bright may be the most timely of the exhibition, due to the impending elections and the pivotal youth vote. The artist encouraged her subjects to use their own clothing, props and poses to “give them a platform to speak for themselves.”

Bright is often described as a “cultural anthropologist.” She especially wanted to examine the attitudes and values of Millennials/Generation Y, (people born in the 1980s through the late 1990s, most often the children of Baby Boomers). The photographs in this series respond to negative portrayals of Millennials in our culture. Museumgoers will hear audio recordings alongside each photo, recordings of her subjects expressing their personal feelings toward the flag.

Bright has appeared in the 2016 feature-length documentary film “Election Day: Lens Across America.”

Karen Graffeo’s Cuba series is part of an ongoing project expressing the beauty and inventiveness of a culture experiencing many challenges, hardships, and poverty. She photographs moments of everyday life in Cuba with an eye to the vibrant designs, colors, patterns, and textures that reflect the unique spirit and aesthetics of the islanders.

Graffeo has traveled extensively, choosing to make work within cultures that both match and contrast her ancestry. She considers her art to be “cultural diplomacy devoted to trust and intersectionality, in service of story and raw, honest visual truth.”

Featured is Graffeo’s photograph titled “Roma girl: no ticket, train of life.”

Since 1999, Graffeo has been documenting Roma populations, sometimes called “Gypsies.” Through the lens of her camera, Graffeo has documented their culture at caravans, slums, housing projects, and refugee camps.

“It is the poorest of the poor who most need a voice,” says Graffeo.

These photos follow the lives of the Roma in Romania and Italy, living in homes they are forced to build by hand from scavenged materials. In her photos, the artist strives to portray the courage and inspiring humanity of the Roma peoples.

Hank Willis Thomas is known for exploring American consumer culture, and the history of how corporate imagery in advertising campaigns showed a lack of respect towards African Americans through the years via print advertisements. His series investigates the subtle and not so subtle ways in which this influential imagery reinforced ideas about race and race relations.

Most of the works in this exhibition are from his series titled Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America. The series explores fifty years of ads that targeted a Black audience or featured Black subjects. Ads starting in 1968 (the year of social and political protest and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.), through 2008 (the year when the first African American president was elected). 

When looking at these works, the viewer quickly experiences a mind-twist when realizing that Thomas did not actually take these photos. Instead, he has appropriated the images from outdated magazine pages and removed all of the wording, product names, slogans and logos from each ad, keeping only the original photos. This makes the images stand out even more. 

The end result is a reimagined version of each original ad, showing how white ad executives at the time got away with creating these depictions for marketing campaigns.

Spider Martin, 'Two Minute Warning' photo from Selma, AL.
Spider Martin, ‘Two Minute Warning’ photo from Selma, AL. Courtesy Doug McGraw Collection.

Spider Martin was an acclaimed newspaper photojournalist known for his iconic photographs taken during the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Martin’s historic images from the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March documented protests by African Americans demanding the right to vote. While working as a young new photojournalist at The Birmingham News, Martin captured the historic photo Two Minute Warning, showing state troopers about to attack peaceful marchers with batons and tear gas, after the marchers crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma into Dallas County.

The incident was pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement, and is known as Bloody Sunday

Three of Martin’s photographs from that day in 1965 were enlarged to serve as the centerpiece for this exhibition, providing a powerful large-scale emphasis that expresses the drama of this critical moment in history. They are part of a series of photographs titled Selma Is Now. Martin’s collection contains thousands of photographs, clippings and other notes — much of it previously unpublished before it was acquired by the University of Texas.

The producers of the movie Selma used Martin’s photographs to recreate scenes for the film.

Martin faced beatings and death threats to capture through his lens the most iconic images of a movement which changed a region and a nation. He fought back with his camera, and with photographs that didn’t lie. They appeared in national and international publications and were seen around the world. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr himself credited his photos with playing a major role in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. stating: “Spider, we could have marched, we could have protested forever, but if it weren’t for guys like you, it would have been for nothing. The whole world saw your pictures. That’s why the Voting Rights Act passed.” 

Liesa Cole’s photographs, projections, and installations are about those who share secrets and those who keep them. Her works follow the theme that most people are uncomfortable sharing secrets unless they know they can trust someone to keep their confidence. Visitors will hear anonymous people telling secrets that can be funny, tragic, ridiculous, surprising, or sometimes raw and visceral. 

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