Election 2020, curated by Billy Howard | Patricia Houghton Clarke | Facing Ourselves: In the Time of Corona

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The ability of images to create community has a persuasive emissary in Patricia Houghton Clarke, whose simple yet powerful portraits of both refugees and townspeople in Italy, England, and the U.S. create pride in their communities for being welcoming and instill hope in the refugees as they are welcomed. Her presentation—wheat pasting large portraits in local neighborhoods—creates its own community of faces, larger than life, each allowed to be seen.

The idea that we all have a story to share is the central tenant of most great art and literature because it is our stories that bond us together. If we are willing to listen to the stories of others—particularly those who are foreign to our own experiences, languages, faiths, traditions—we have opportunities to be welcomed into a more universal family. Each of us is working to survive, be heard, and relate to others in our own way and that ideal is at the heart of Clarke’s work. It could not be done if the artist herself was not deeply interested in her subjects, a fact that is embedded in the faces staring back into her lens conveying personal dignity and trust.

Clarke is an alchemist. She uses her camera to connect people thus transforming individuals into communities. She endows her images with life through her large scale installations and offers them to all who pass as exemplars of who we can be.

I encourage you to give this work more than a cursory look, read about Clarke’s mission, her process, and her road to discovery. Immerse yourself in the stories of the people she photographed.  Her path is that of an artist and a humanitarian, both inspiring and humble, let her help guide you into your own heart.

—Billy Howard

Portraits of humanity. Portraits of courage. Portraits of survival. Portraits of grace and generosity. Abolishing the concept of “other.” Simple concepts, begun 4 years ago in a village in the south of Italy. The Facing Ourselves project is a constantly evolving ideal, attempting to respond to daily life and circumstances around the world. As we move into more and more challenging times with worldwide migration at the forefront, we need to focus time and attention on merging cultures and how to create sustainable and humane communities for the future.

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a sudden, shuddering, chaotic halt, and promises to change our lives, for better or for worse. The idea that we are “all in this together” is in some ways honest; in others, completely false. The virus doesn’t discriminate in its quest to infect and sicken people; it will attack all races, in all socioeconomic groups, and across all of the countries on the planet. In this way we are equally vulnerable.

However, as the exploration of migration and equity has deepened, the arrival of a global pandemic has broadened the conversation regarding migrants and their new communities. The disparity between people in relation to economic security has deepened and become more frightening with each passing day. While we simultaneously seek to extend a virtual helping hand to those who are more seriously affected by this new reality, we are also forced to isolate ourselves away from human contact.

This time of Corona has moved us from facing each other to physically avoiding each other. Avoiding gazes in the market, avoiding touch, avoiding normal daily intercourse, and closing our doors to the outside world. Our computers and devices have become the primary pathway into our daily lives.

The reality of how we face ourselves and each other is constantly evolving. Shall we turn our backs towards, or away from fear? Shall we face the future head on, adapting to our new environment with grace, generosity and caring?

Or shall we turn our heads, and have only ourselves to face?

-Patricia Houghton Clark

BIO:

A self-taught photographer, Patricia is particularly interested in culture, history and human nature. She has decades of travel in over 40 countries and years of work in visual arts and social justice efforts: project creation, photography, fine art exhibitions, teaching and community development.

As the Co-Founder of an award-winning affordable housing nonprofit and volunteer with refugee support organizations, her work has been an exploration of humanity, both near and far. From the jungles of Borneo to the Drag culture of southern California, her interest in blending photographic work with a quest to promote understanding between cultures has powered her imagery for many years.

Patricia’s award-winning photography has been featured in exhibitions and publications around the United States and Europe. A collection of her imagery is included in the Barack Obama Presidential Library collection. She speaks English, Spanish and Italian. She is currently producing an international portrait project titled Facing Ourselves.

www.facingourselves.org

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