"Sacred to the Memory of… is a site-specific installation created on the occasion of Bearing Witness for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. The painting Lady with Flower (after Lady Sings the Blues) is displayed alongside a cream-colored baby grand piano attributed to Billie Holiday; beyond this coupling, along the axis of the building, the viewer finds a delicate, black fabric scrim with a collage of photographic images, each printed on sheer silk and painstakingly embroidered with cross stitches. This scrim establishes a threshold before a second painting, The Lynching of Virgil Jones, Robert Jones and Joseph Riley, July 31, 1908 (after unknown photographer; Allen/Littlefield Collection), from the Whitewash series. Both paintings feature McCallum and Tarry’s signature technique in which the printed silk mimics the image painted below, causing the figures in these compositions to appear to move, while the collaged scrim deploys the same sheer silk in a different manner. The Lynching of Virgil Jones records the grotesque image of the lynchings of Virgil Jones, Robert Jones and Joseph Riley in Russellville, Kentucky.

The horrific nature of this act deepens as the viewer attempts to resolve the redoubled and blurred imagery whose ghostly effect visually haunts the viewer. Lady with Flower is a portrait based on Sidney J. Furie’s 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross as Holiday. The magnetic image of Ross, whose melancholic gaze prompts the viewer to think about Holiday’s music and difficult life, enacts a moving likeness of the singer. The use of the fabric scrim, which partially conceals the disturbing imagery in the lynching painting, is a dramatic device that alludes to performance and theatricality. The many threads of this installation are woven together by a soundscape that uses the lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” a song made famous by Holiday, in a vocal piece by Imani Uzuri. Holiday’s distinctively textured voice and emotionally charged delivery of “Strange Fruit” resulted in the unlikely popularity of a song about lynching. This installation draws together the legacies of lynching, the Civil Rights Movement and Holiday’s career, as the installation juxtaposes the jovial nature of the entertainment industry with the dark past of American race relations." 

"Sacred to the Memory of." In Bearing Witness: Work by Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry, edited by Jennie Hirsh, 53. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Institute College of Art, 2010. 

©Exhibition Development Seminar 2009-2010, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA: Baltimore, 2010) 


To view or download the entire exhibition catalogue from Bearing Witness: Work by Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry with descriptions of each work as well as a critical essay, please visit the Featured page