Theodore Harris: Collage as Response & Call
— Kim Benston
It’s my pleasure and privilege to introduce the first exhibition in the Hurford Humanities Center’s Web Gallery, entitled “The Truthoscopic Collage Art of Theodore Harris,” which presents a unique and powerful blend of image, idea, performance, and challenge.
Theodore Harris is a poet and visual artist who, though born in New York, is a true Philly product. His artistic career was launched in the early 1980s as a founding member of Philadelphia’s storied Mural Arts Program (MAP). He has since painted and designed murals throughout the city, helping to invigorate Philadelphia’s visual and cultural landscape while making it a bellwether of contemporary public art.
While continuing his work as a muralist and poet, Mr. Harris has achieved a particularly important reputation as a collagist. In addition to being exhibited at one-man and group shows from coast to coast, Harris’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Long Shot, The Hammer, Unity & Struggle, AAR, and the important anthologies Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature and Art and In Defense of Mumia.
Building upon his reputation forged at MAP as a spirited collaborator and generous mentor, Theodore Harris has taught art in a number of settings, serving for example as Artist in Residence at the Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, Ct. As an artist-activist always seeking new audiences, Harris has worked in a variety of public venues, including several heralded theatrical productions-most notably, the stagings of Langston Hughes’s Black Nativity at Washington’s Lincoln Theatre and Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman at Philadelphia’s Iron Age Theatre. This work in set design and collage projection illuminates the fundamentally performative quality of Theodore Harris’s work, a drive toward enactment experienced to great effect by the Haverford community during his collaborative presentation with Amiri Baraka in the spring of 2002.
Harris’s photomontages—as you’ll see upon entering the image gallery itself-develop a critical vocabulary that is both distinctive and resonant, ranging from South Africa to L.A. and encompassing a wide range of thematic purposes. Because, as Harris says in his Artist’s Manifesto, his is an art seeking to “record the time in which [he] lives ¸ in a visual language,” we have arranged the exhibition chronologically, allowing the viewer to experience Harris’s stylistic and technical evolution alongside his work’s fierce continuous response to modern history.
These intricate yet urgent images constitute an engagement with dispossession and repossession, abuse and resistance, denial and affirmation, offering a compelling critical encounter with the jagged fabric of contemporary social life and perception.
Harris’s “truthoscopic art” is, moreover, an art about rethinking and reforming various kinds of relations-relations between images and people, between people and power, between people and themselves.
That is to say, this is an art about collective consciousness and struggle. It issues a call for us not merely to view but to analyze, and not merely to analyze but to act.