Stephen Marc (Tempe, AZ) | 2001 A-I-R

My work is an extended exploration of the African Diaspora. During my residency in Woodstock, I photographed and began the construction of new montages based on the places that I visited. Several of the pieces have been absorbed into a larger ongoing project titled Passage on the Underground Railroad, where they have become important additions.

In this project, composites that describe individual UGRR sites, are accompanied by montages that function as blended metaphors. They incorporate elements, which hint at the complex nature of the UGRR, that required strategies of concealment, disguise, and evasion (including organized misdirection), as well as the use of secret codes and signals. In addition to the UGRR and slavery, they reference other aspects of the African Diaspora and contemporary culture.

During the residency, I was able to research and visit several of the sites connected to the life of Sojourner Truth, the Huguenot Village in New Paltz, and other local sites. At the end of the residency, I drove to Buffalo, photographing Underground Railroad sites along the route of Harriet Tubman leading into Canada.

The following is a list of the elements included in the montages:

1) This montage blends shackles, rows of corn, the Genesee River in downtown Rochester near the site of Frederick Douglass’s office, and larger than life Pinch and Punch figures on a porch that were chained together in order to prevent theft. Fugitive escapes were often timed with the maturation of the corn crop, which provided cover and a food source.

2) This is the basement of the Niagara Frontier Bible Church, a station on the Niagara River in Lewiston, NY. The walls and the floor are covered with a text portion of the Slave Registry from the Huguenot Village in New Paltz, NY, which recorded their births and manumissions. The top section on the wall acknowledges the birth of Abraham. Also pictured are a woman walking along the Niagara River with the Peace Bridge connecting to Canada in the background; hands forming the Sigma Greek letter (Phi Beta Sigma fraternity); and a West African fertility doll.

3) Braided hair (corn rows), Arizona petroglyphs, and a Woodstock, NY area river.

4) The background scene is Seneca Lake, one of the NY Finger Lakes along one of Harriet Tubman’s routes to Canada. The horse and carriage (found in Savannah, GA) is similar to those used for fugitive transport. Some of the carriages contained false bottom compartments for hiding people.

5) Along the left bank of the Genesee River (Rochester, NY) was the UGRR meeting place for ships heading toward Canada across Lake Ontario. The stocks stand in front of the courthouse in Kingston, NY, where Sojourner Truth reclaimed her son Peter who had been illegally transferred, as a slave to Alabama, after the announcement of New York’s emancipation date.

6) Woman entering a subway car in NYC and a man’s face patterned with hair

7) Woodstock forest

8) Foggy roadway in Woodstock, a Kingston tombstone with memorial visit mementos, and Arizona petroglyphs

9) The stairway leading to the basement of the Plymouth of the Pilgrims Church in Brooklyn; woman walking down the street in NY at night; a praying mantis; and a woman in front of a mirror. The pastor of the church was Henry Beecher, and the church reportedly served as an Underground Railroad station.

Stephen Marc received his M.F.A. from theTyler School of Art. He teaches at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ., and previously taught at Columbia College. He has received fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council Aaron Siskind Foundation, and Arts Midwest (Regional NEA), and the Seagram’s African-American Perspectives Commission Award. He has been a part of exhibitions at Harbourfront Centre (solo), MOCA GA, Quay School of Art Gallery, Center for Photography at Woodstock, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Art and Culture Center, downstairs galleries, Hollywood, FL, Abrons Art Center, Charles E. Culpeper Gallery (solo), Chicago Cultural Center, El Museo Gallery (solo), Southeast Museum of Photography, CEPA Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Colorado Photographic Arts Center,and University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Along with his residency at CPW, he has completed residencies at the CEPA Gallery in Buffalo, NY. He has published three books entitled The Black Trans Atlantic Experience: Street Life and Culture in Ghana, Jamaica, England, and the United States; Urban Notions; and Passage on the Underground Railroad.

Stephen Marc was an artists in residence in June 2001.