Tia Blassingame: Mourning/Warning, Atkinson Gallery, SBCC
By Debra Herrick
At first, “Mourning/Warning” is a quiet exhibit. The colors are muted. The words are sparse. The space between each book is wide.
The story printmaker Tia Blassingame tells is one of distance, the seas between Africa and the Americas; the land between Oakland and Staten Island; the time spanning from slavery to “I can’t breathe.”
Blassingame’s installation is composed of poetry and monotone photographs printed on handmade paper and bound in books, each separately displayed on podiums to be leafed through and read.
Binding together images of people of color who have endured violence—from the slave trade to modern police brutality—Blassingame catalogs systemic violence against black bodies, and summons the viewer to bear witness.
Blassingame has chosen period typefaces that cue the melancholy of the era imbued in each poem.
Next to a cracked leaf that evokes a paddle, Blassingame has imprinted a litany of sold items, “barrels, bushels, tins, and dozens of apples, cider, potatoes, oil, axes, tin lamps, molasses and the Negro Corodon.” Beneath the ink we see the dried flowers entombed in the fibers of the paper, the shadow of a nineteenth century fabric or funeral.
The jarring image of a joyful black woman with the single word “Uppity” condemns a history of cruelty in language and racism’s ability to shapeshift.
The exhibit also debuts a new installation by Blassingame composed of maritime warning flags stripped of their primary colors and replaced with muted browns and blacks. The artist describes this work as seeking "to highlight the relationship of Americans of the African diaspora to maritime travel and the urgent need for an alternate means of communication in times of emergency and duress.
"‘How do you send a warning call that hatred comes constantly in waves?’”
“Mourning/Warning” is a beautiful lament and a wailing admonition.
“Tia Blassingame: Mourning/Warning” is on exhibit at the Atkinson Gallery at Santa Barbara City College from Sept. 7 to Oct. 12, 2018. Blassingame will give an artist lecture on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. in the Physical Science Building, Room 101.