Fine Art Photographer and Visual Cultural Recorder Sheila Pree Bright uses city walls as her canvas. Her 1960Now – Youth Leaders of the 60s on Walls project is a daring body of work, a type of social intervention meant to interrupt the mundane, and force a sort of awareness that cannot be avoided.
The space lends some of its qualities to her impromptu gallery: public sites have a structural role in society, and Pree Bright´s project underlines an equivalent structural feature of these portraits: they mark our present, encapsulate current events while referencing history.
A new relationship with the very act of remembering is established: collective memory appears less of a given, and more of a responsibility, a duty. Freedom from violence, racism, prejudice, and a past defined by all of these, seems to be possible only through an interruption of a violent, racist, intolerant present.
Elena Stanciu: Please tell me a little about yourself?
Sheila Pree Bright: I'm a Fine Art Photographer who sees and creates narratives about social, political and historical context not often seen in the visual communication of media and propaganda platforms. The imagery I present and capture of culture and counter-culture challenges ideas about narratives that are controlled by Western thought and established power structures.
ES: What is Project1960? Who are the Youth Leaders of the 60s? What is your relation with the subjects of these photograph?
SPB: Project1960 is a series of works I created after the frustration around the country over the George Zimmerman verdict and the shooting of Mike Brown Jr. I hit the ground and began to document the shaping of a movement as a result of no mercy policing, and shootings of unarmed victims around the country.
Atlanta, my home base, home of the Civil Rights Movement, is the research core of the work. The South is a very interesting place, being born in the South, but not being raised in the South and coming back here as an adult peaks my curiosity about how current and past histories intersect.
#1960Now evolved from 1960Who. The series explores the state and condition of America now, investigating what "disruption" looks like. I also found interesting the emergence of fresh new leadership, becoming more visible from the ground up. I'm exploring power struggles and how America has reached the shifts we see – socially, politically, and economically.
ES: Your choice of scale and location is very interesting. Why do you find public spaces more appropriate for this series than, say, a gallery?
SPB: I felt that it was important to reach a broader audience with the work by taking the portraits to the streets. The project now lives in urban spaces as a street gallery and is reinforced on social media platforms, essentially an extension of public space. Movements always start from grassroots efforts, work on the ground, so I document and exhibit these events where they happen.
ES: What reaction do you get from members of these communities adorned with your photographs?
SPB: The area where the portraits were placed was along the path of the HBCU march, the sit-ins and marches, so it was giving honour to these brave souls of the movement who took a stand, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I hope they felt the support and respect my project was showing.
ES: Looking at your work, I feel compelled to remember, almost ashamed that I could forget our history and the people who changed it. Would you say that remembering is an essential element of activism? How can we prevent instances of social and cultural forgetting?
SPB: 1960Who and #1960Now are a documentation of current events reminiscent of the ´60s. So I turn that around and say that activism is an essential element of remembering and not forgetting. In the attempt to capture the truth in struggles with police brutality and mass incarceration of black bodies, aesthetics reinforces critical thought about how much different things are really from 50 years ago.