"I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance"

Here's a fascinating post from Art Blart (aka: Dr. Marcus Bunyan). Its an archival project from the The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) who are currently running an exhibition on the runaway slave Sojourner Truth, who was an abolitionist, feminist, and orator during the 1800's and the American Civil War. It not only documents her fervent drive for equality but it also speakes about her relationship with the image and the use of the photographic carte de visite as a propaganda tool to expose the realities of injustice.

Her use of the existing technologies of the time to disrupt the status quo is a testament to the power of simplicity and the effectiveness that the image can bring to raise awareness of social and political issues. "Truth used her image, the press, the postal service, and copyright laws to support her activism and herself." It also reflects her understanding of the value that images carry, as she equated her own image as a commodity. The wording on the cards is also carefully considered to speak to her own image and "Truth’s use of the first-person present tense “I sell” declares her ownership of her image: to sell it, she must own it. Most significantly, by using this caption Sojourner Truth knowingly aligned her photographs with paper money." (source: BAMPFA).

In a strange way it makes me think of Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Nice, just to name a few. But it also makes me think of the ubiquity of the image in our times, the agency that it might or might not carry and whether we have reached a 'saturation-density' that has marganilised the images affect. But what makes Sojourner Truth's story different is that she has made a consious decision to employ the image as a tool, not only for self-expression but as a means of dissent as well. Here intent becomes a function of outcomes and observation is left to those who interpret them.

Her possession of self is intimately tied to the photographic depiction of her bodily form. She sells the photograph to support the body and, as her agency, the images become a form of self-actualisation. In this sense the image that she controls becomes her holistic body, for she never displays her injured hand or the scars on her back that she were inflicted on her during slavery. (Bunyan, 2016)

During the Civil War, a ferocious debate raged about whether paper could represent value like coin. Paper greenbacks – the first federally issued banknotes in American history – were attacked by those who believed that money was not a representation but a “substance.” Hard money advocates (naively) believed that gold was value, not its representation…. Like paper bills, cartes de visite functioned during these years as currency and as clandestine political tokens.

Sojourner Truth’s very terms, “substance” and “shadow,” were economic as well as photographic metaphors in the fierce debates about money: shadow was aligned with the abolition of slavery, substance with proslavery and anti-black sentiment. Sojourner Truth knew this opposition very well. She was making cheap paper notes, printed and reproduced in multiples, featuring her portrait. She had invented her own kind of paper currency, and for the same reasons as the government: in order to produce wealth dependent on a consensus that representation produces material results, to make money where there was none, and to do so partly in order to abolish slavery.

The photographs of Sojourner Truth register only her appearance, not her commanding presence. They are shadows, and some are more elusive and mute than others. Yet the printed words – name, caption, and copyright – remain forthright: her speech, authorship, and recourse to law coexist with her image. Those printed words force us to acknowledge the illiterate woman’s authorship, as well as her eloquence, her agency, and her legal claim to property, even as we value these humble objects. [source:]

Exhibition dates: 27th July – 23rd October 2016 ‘I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance’ Former New York slave Sojourner Truth (which literally means “itinerant preacher”) strategically deployed photography as a form of political activism. This deployment is part of a long tradition of photography being used in the African American struggle for political change, from […]

via Exhibition: ‘Sojourner Truth, Photography, and the Fight Against Slavery’ at The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Berkeley — Art Blart

Dr Marcus Bunyan* is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne. (source:

* He makes great images too! HERE

2b-sojourner-truth-verso-web   [image] Unknown photographer  (American) Captioned carte de visite of Sojourner Truth (back) 1864. Albumen print mounted on cardboard. 4 x 2 1/2 in. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, gift of Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby


[image] Unknown photographer (American) Captioned carte de visite of Sojourner Truth (back) 1864. Albumen print mounted on cardboard. 4 x 2 1/2 in. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, gift of Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby

3-sojourner-truth-web   [image] Unknown photographer  (American). Captioned carte de visite of Sojourner Truth c. 1864-65. Albumen print mounted on cardboard. 4 x 2 1/2 in. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, gift of Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby


[image] Unknown photographer (American). Captioned carte de visite of Sojourner Truth c. 1864-65. Albumen print mounted on cardboard. 4 x 2 1/2 in. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, gift of Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby

Benjamin Tiven and Triple Canopy

Tiven_M_Daniel-arap-Moi [image] Benjamin Tiven, Daniel arap Moi at a Public Presentation, Unknown Date, 2013, inkjet print 20" × 25".

Pixels, root properties, illusions, patterns, grids and cities

Michael Cowan, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University and Benjamin Tiven, artist and contributor to the online magazine Triple Canopy, engage in a fascinating conversation, titled How we see in which they discuss the role of the brain in the understanding of the sensory world. The conversation revolves around issues that relate to our visual systems and the role of consciousness, evolution, experiential and scientific influences in shaping a visual understanding.

The interview is part of Common Minds, a series of essays which investigate the intricacies of the brain and the growth of neuroscience in contemporary society and science. Interestingly, Tiven titles this interview as a collaborative work and not an interview. This approach highlights the multiple roles that artists, such as Tiven, engage in and that any discourse is as valid a piece of art work as any painting, photograph, sculpture or digital creation. Below is a short extract from that conversation:

Our monitoring of the world is really much less continuous and accurate than we think it is. Experience is the conversion of energy into data. The project of all life is to correlate the interpretation with the energy source, since the better your ability to interpret reality, the more likely you are to survive and pass on your genes. Now, how close or causal is the relationship between the energy we experience and our interpretation of it—that's a different question. In fact, something like illusion or magic is based on a discrepancy between the information we're taking in and our interpretation. (Tarr, 2013 para 15)

Corrupted imagery and heads of state

Benjamin Tiven's approach to his art work is collaborative in nature and investigative in style. He deals with the longevity of images and the cross pollination of data from its analog forms into the digitised world as a need for survival. These manifest themselves as conversations that revolve around the issues of existence, memory and the way that stories are told. In A Third Version of the Imaginary, Tiven researches the archived footage, buried in the depths of the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation, and the events surrounding the 1973 Kenyan Independence Day parade. He brings the archived footage back to life through a series of interviews and conversations which corroborate the grainy, choppy footage from a technological past.


Employing the internet, through Triple Canopy, as a platform for the reinterpretation of these occurrences, the ‘conversations’ express themselves as investigative journalism which delve deeper into the politics of regimes past, the power of political imagery and the data that forms these events. Tiven describes an aspect of his work as the "increasing interchangeability between objects and data" and in one of these conversations with Brian Larkin, Larkin describes that a “breakdown shouldn’t be seen as the absence of something, but rather as the groundwork for something else coming into existence” (Larkin, 2014). This view exemplifies what Tiven’s work is about; that all things have data, past, present and future and in the retrieval and archiving of these events, new occurrences happen.

The digital space can now act as the repository of our actions. The increased capacity of storage through micro technologies and cloud depositories has expanded the realm of knowledge and the capacity for the instantaneous retrieval of information. The explosion of on-line magazines, blogs and social media sites has spurned an environment where all our experiences can be recorded and archived. This ever expanding environment can also be seen as the collective memory of our times.

But one day, these digital spaces might mirror the dusty archival rooms of past regimes, which means that the decoding of our digital past will require new technologies and new visionaries to retrieve them from their slumber. So, who will be responsible for the reinterpretation of these memories? Who will re-mix, loop, splice, cut and paste new story lines in an effort to uncover the deeper connections that occurred in the posting of our existence? As the digital space increasingly becomes controlled and commodified will it be the artist, the writer, the scientist or will we relinquish that responsibility to the powers that govern us? And will these interpretations represent the truth?


Tarr, M. & Tiven, B. (2013). How we see. Retrieved from:

Larkin, B., Nyong’o, T. & Tiven, M. (2014). Everyday static transmissions. Retrieved from:

Esther Shalev-Gerz

Picture 19

Esther Shalev-Gerz states "All my work is based on the potentiality of trust" (Shalev-Gerz, 2013). Her projects often express the narrative of a time forgotten which she then reinterprets as slices of time in the present. She has described the importance of memory in her works as an integral aspect of her site specific installations. The relationship between object and environment is how those moments are defined. Individuals who occupy the space in the past talk about their experience and their relationship with not only the physical space but the intent of the space and their interaction with others who use those same spaces.

Though we rarely speak of trust in relation to art, a work of art may well be the ultimate expression of trust. It is as if we trust, for instance, that some inked piece of paper or painted canvas will receive us and speak truly about our world and its own. It is this space of trust that enables dialogue to unfold. Dialogue is a group of people freely reaching a place and verbally exchanging thoughts in a present and immediate way whilst listening, not only to others but also to themselves with others, then coming together and exchanging again, and after having left, coming together yet again. Such gathering is never spontaneous; still, it must be proposed. (Esther Shalev-Gerz, The Trust Gap (2013). Retrieved from • /

“I do think all art springs out from an invitation, real or imaginary” (Esther Shalev-Gerz, 2010).

Artist's talk with Esther Shalev-Gerz at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, January 12, 2013.

The Artwork as an Act of Memory

For over 20 years her work has focused on interventions and projects in public space, taking the form of collaboration and exchange with the audience. Her installations and photographic work raise questions on group memory and its interaction with personal history and souvenir. In these commemorative monuments, installations, video and photographic works, questions about history are posed, and its relationship with collective memory is explored and investigated. Esther Shalev-Gerz: The Artwork as an Act of Memory. 2001 by: Contemporary Past. Retrieved from:

[vimeo 27525041 w=500 h=281]

Esther Shalev-Gerz: The Artwork as an Act of Memory from Contemporary Past on Vimeo.

Resources / images :

Cover image: DAEDAL(US), 2003. Intervention and Installation. Dublin, Ireland. Still image projections variable dimensions. 15 colour photographs - 65 cm x 53 cm. 15 diasec-mounted colour photographs – 108 cm x 80 cm.

INSEPARABLE ANGELS: AN IMAGINARY HOUSE FOR WALTER BENJAMIN, 2000. Installation. Collection of the Wanås Foundation, Knislinge, Sweden. 1 Double-faced clock - 60 cm. Double-seated chair – 82 cm x 65 cm x 43 cm.

BOOKS INHALED BY THE SKY, 1998. Video Projection - 14 mn.