A MATERIAL project

Built by D/L

The phrase “I AM A MAN” has been appropriated here from the signs held by African-American sanitation workers on March 28, 1968, pictured in Ernest C. Withers’ ‘Sanitation Workers Assemble in Front of Clayborn Temple for a Solidarity March, Memphis, Tennessee.’ The signs address the sense of self of the people holding them. Each person holding the sign is a whole person and is asking to be seen and treated as such.

Over the course of correspondence between Marie Jager and Farrah Karapetian, the two artists were rarely in the same place and both were working on individual projects at individual residencies from New Hampshire to Paris. When they were in New York or Los Angeles at the same time, it was difficult to coordinate their schedules, and so they were able to meet in person only once, speak on the phone or over skype never, and correspond via email irregularly.

On top of the actual dissonance involved in communicating through space and time, Farrah was working through issues of misdirection in her (and her family’s) life and work. While exploring labyrinthine forms through cameraless photographic prints situated on the floor, she happened upon a jpeg of the march of the sanitation workers. She felt immediate solidarity with the phrase that each of their signs communicated, despite its gendered grammar and the racial and temporal specificity of its context.

Farrah considered deploying the phrase in several postures. The piece simplified into a fairly mimetic reenactment of Withers’ photograph. Here the artist has fabricated a life-size negative of the sign at three distinct dimensions, making 100 individual cameraless chromogenic contact prints and pinning them to the wall of the hallway in postures that reenact the way the signs were held in the original photograph of the solidarity march in 1968.

Each photographic print is, then, a photograph of a sign, but is also a sign. Each represents and implies in its number and posture an absent human body. Each print is an individual, but is also part of a group. The piece is solitary, but is also an accumulation of individual pieces.

Farrah’s repetitive appropriation of the sentiment from the sanitation workers’ signs “I AM A MAN” is an attempted reinforcement of a sense of personhood: a mantra spoken into a mirror or an echo of a voice in a void.

Farrah Karapetian
Signs, 2010
100 unique chromogenic photograms