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Nikita Gale: 1961, September 8 2012 to October 2012



{Poem88} is pleased to present 1961, a series by conceptual photographer Nikita Gale of diptychs and collages of appropriated photographs and texts created, in a way, as an archaeological study. As a contemporary black artist based in the southern United States, Gale, in this body of work, makes her initial foray into deliberate explorations of racial, spatial, sexual and emotional identity. In its Spring 2012 issue, The Oxford American named Nikita Gale No. 4 on its list of “100 Under 100: The New Superstars of Southern Art.”

The work was created during an artist residency at The Center for Photography at Woodstock in Woodstock, NY. Gale describes the work in this way: This work is about piecing together a narrative to bring to life a part of history that was seldom seen or shared – the private and internal operations of human emotion and thought. Much like an archaeologist pieces together narratives based on available artifacts, I have done the same with the available visual and written artifacts from 1961, but instead of piecing together explanations of utilitarian processes, I am seeking to piece together emotional, intangible phenomena. Much like broken and reassembled physical remnants of the past, I have researched and reassembled texts and imagery that attempt to address these internal human processes of thought and emotion. The resulting texts are, much like archaeological documentation and findings reports, imperfect, vague, provocative and hint at something – they represent the voice behind human emotions and desires. It’s the voice that is rarely ever documented; it’s the thoughts that we have about each other – the thoughts that we can’t share but we feel.

In the vast landscape of human knowledge, both historical and contemporary, the information within this landscape can be separated into three broad categories. I refer to the first category as Public. This is information that is publicly available and publicly acknowledged. This type of information includes news and current events. The second category is Intimate. Intimate information alludes to any type of information that is known and acknowledged by a smaller fraction of the population – any sort of information shared by a group of family members or friends. The third category of information is Secret. This refers to any information that is intentionally withheld from the Public and Intimate categories of information – private emotional feelings and sexual or social taboos, for example. 1961 is a project in which I create tableaux that visualize the divergence and intersection of these three categories of knowledge within a specific time and space to draw out a new narrative that addresses issues specific to race, sexuality, and human emotion.


I created this body of work out of a desire to re-imagine the year 1961 in the American South. In considering the relationship of past and present, I wanted to apply the omniscience that the present has over the past within this framework of Public, Intimate and Secret information. The present always knows the "future" of the past and will always be responsible for applying meaning to the past. I created a body of diptychs that synthesizes ideas of racial, sexual and social tensions present during the Civil Rights Movement. By using found color slides and text from two pro- segregation texts (a letter addressed to Malcolm X from the grand wizard of the KKK and a transcript of a speech by the Lt. Governor of Georgia) and combining them with rephotographed and recontextualized mugshots of the Freedom Riders (a civil rights group that rode through the South to promote the desegregation of buses).

The language that emerges from this “excavation” is a romantic, suggestive narrative that has the potential to apply to an endless number of interpersonal scenarios. It could be a narrative wherein the white masculine addresses a non-white or black feminine or vise-versa. It could be a narrative suggestive of the thoughts of a supervisor about a subordinate. It could be a collection of thoughts about a friend, or a colleague, or some other scenario with which the viewer identifies on a very basic level.

Born in Anchorage Alaska, she holds a BA in Anthropology (Archaeological Studies) from Yale University and has exhibited in numerous shows in Atlanta, Georgia; Santa Fe, New Mexico and New York City, New York. She was an Artist-in-Residence at The Center for Photography at Woodstock in Woodstock, New York in 2011 and is currently in the Studio Artist Program at The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

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