Artists Push Photography Across Time and Into New Material Space in i’ve been here before


In the exhibition i’ve been here before, curated by Shabez Jamal at Sibyl Gallery in New Orleans, the individual and collective works demonstrate an exciting expansion of the material considerations of photography. Participating artists (Jen Everett, Sean G. Clark, Felicita “Felli” Maynard, Mark Anthony Brown Jr., Lola Ayisha Ogbara, Kristina Kay Robinson, Ambrose Rhapsody Murray, Justin Carney, Darryl DeAngelo Terrell, and John Alleyne) look to photography as both a creative practice and as a departure point for other forms of making via installation, sculpture, video, and ceramics. In addition to this translation and transformation of media, the artists illustrate the capacity of the photograph (or photo-ish object) to transport, time travel, and haunt the viewer, to enable remembering and visualize what it means to forget. 


A view of an exhibition that includes various works including photographs and installations.
Installation image of i’ve been here before, featuring work by Ambrose Rhapsody Murray, John Alleyne, Felicita “Felli” Maynard, Lola Ayisha Ogbara, Justin Carney, and Darryl Terrell. Image courtesy of Sibyl Gallery


At the entrance to the gallery stands a glazed stoneware vessel from Chicago-based Nigerian American artist Lola Ayisha Ogbara’s Forget-Me-Knot series. The black surface recalls something egg-like, volcanic, and geological, the woven texture realized with impressions made from acrylic nails. Installed in tandem with photographs of Ogbara activating the ceramic works in performance, the vessels themselves memorialize a photo of a lost vase made by the artist’s maternal grandmother. Physical gaps in the stoneware’s form suggest lapses in time or haptic memories that slip through openings in the clay — gaps and memories held tight by the manicured fingers that made the form itself. 

Nearby, New Orleans-based John Alleyne’s Protective Dreadlock Stylez series reveals the artist’s own method of silkscreen monotype printmaking. Traveling from his native Barbados to the U.S., Alleyne observed the same stock barbershop photos across the two countries. He reimagines those stock images collaged with prints of his own dreadlocks, the various depictions altered and moved throughout the printmaking process to realize an unstable and dynamic mark-making. Like Ogbara’s nail imprints, the inclusion of Alleyne’s hair in the work reflects and honors an inheritance of care and sanctuary for the Black body. Both the salon and the barbershop serve as places of bodily stewardship, intimacy, and gendered community gathering. Ogbara and Alleyne weave the body together with photography to create a whole new genre of image/object — ones that speak to old photos, departed folks, and rituals of care.    


Blurry faces on a white paper.
John Alleyne, PROTECTIVE DREADLOCK STYLEZ (STYLE NO. 4), 2023, Silkscreen monotype on paper, 24 x 19 in. Image courtesy of the artist and Sibyl Gallery.


At the center of the gallery hangs a large assemblage of textile and collaged imagery that waves with playful hauntedness on the breeze from open doors during the show’s boisterous opening reception. In the work, two figures, a detached ceiling fan and a car door seen through the vehicle’s interior, appear edged with loose and fraying threads amid layers of hand-dyed silks in amber and deep eggplant hues. Self-taught, New Orleans-based artist Ambrose Rhapsody Murray uses sewing and found photography to explore and visualize “the slipperiness between memory/remembering, spirit, imagination and one’s sense of self,” says Murray. The artist patchworks images sourced from various corners of the internet, creating scenes and spotlighting figures both familiar and unnamed. 

Where Murray discovers her images in digital space, Mark Anthony Brown Jr. finds many of his photographs in estate sales and antique stores. In Brown’s work, these found photos of domestic scenes, school kids on picture day, graduations, and exuberant parties, are loosely tucked in the sides of the framed landscape images taken by the artist. In front of the glass, these photos might slip or shift, echoing the precarity of place intrinsic to these images whose subjects’ names and stories, and indeed their “place,” are now lost.    


A colorful photo with distorted figures.
Justin Carney, HOME, 2021, Archival pigment print, 36 x 46 in, Edition of 5, Artist Proof. Image courtesy of the artist and Sibyl Gallery


Adjacent to Ogbara and Murray’s work, Indiana-based artist Justin Carney alters autobiographical photographs to explore themes of death, grief, and familial ties. Carney alters photo imagery through sanding and chemical application in a process that physically distorts and obscurs the figure represented. Bubbling, smoky, foggy, burning textures veil and erase the subject from the viewer’s vision, implying the intimate, illusive process of forgetting. Could this be what it looks like to lose a memory? Throughout the space, New Orleans-based, Afro-Latine artist Felicita “Felli” Maynard arranges materials found in family homes to create expansive, aromatic sculptural installations. Their works in leather, hemp, charcoal, sand, palm, earth, tobacco, glass, brick, chain, and iron also include photo chemicals. Like Carney, Maynard employs these chemicals beyond their intended use, manifesting a new and subversive kind of photo object that visualizes a past and present beyond literal figuration.   


A gallery view with installation on the left, and a photograph and a vessel on the right.
Installation image of i’ve been here before, featuring work by Felicita “Felli” Maynard and Lola Ayisha Ogbara. Image courtesy of Sibyl Gallery.


Resonating with Carney, Darryl DeAngelo Terrell pushes the photograph of the figure beyond legibility. On the second floor of the gallery, Terrell’s diptych 192°S 29°4’16” N 80°57’45” W NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL, reveals a glittering, cosmic, illusive form both here and gone amid a landscape of live oak trees and Spanish moss at dusk. Created with a prolonged exposure, Terrell’s amorphous body suggests a portal to another place, a movement between planes, and the camera’s in/ability to “capture” such a force.  


A orange form glitters in a landscape of at dusk.
Darryl Deangelo Terrell, Detail: 192°S 29°4’16” N 80°57’45” W NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL, 2024, Archival Inkjet Print, 24 x 36 in, Exhibition print (AP). Image courtesy of the artist and Sibyl Gallery.


Nearby, and with a similar kind of refusal of “capture,” Jen Everett’s found object assemblage sculpture, Untitled (from the series Unheard Sounds, Come Through) consists of speakers, books (including works by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison), cassette tapes (recordings by Donna Summer and Janet Jackson), a radio, and a hot pink 110 Concord camera. These late twentieth-century technologies, indeed a camera itself, are reimagined and remade as a silent, sculptural installation. That the work constitutes unheard sounds echoes Black studies scholar and art historian Tina Campt’s framework of “listening to images.” Campt and Everett prompt audiences to go beyond typical or cursory readings of photographs and to instead sit with images and attune to their more complex subtext and quieter implications.       

In addition to these works inviting their viewers to listen, several also use text in the image, asking their gallery visitors to read. New Orleans-based, self-taught artist Sean G. Clark’s work includes the words: I Will Rest For You. In acrylic, oil pastel, and textile on paper, the piece details a figure lying down in the grass below a blue sky, their position of repose denying any identifiable features to the viewer, the textile patches conveying a comfort and care for the resting subject. Clark paints from photographs, demonstrating a long history of imagery translation enabled by photography as a creative departure point. Together, Clark’s and Kristina Kay Robinson’s work, Temple of Color and Sound, physically bookend the exhibition. The flute and percussion sounds from Robinson’s multimedia video installation aurally pull the gallery visitor through the space and upstairs. Once there, three screen projections along with candles, flowers, date syrup and rose petal spread, all enclosed within velvet curtains, transport the viewer into an alternative, liberatory reality. A large mirror set amid the screens of the projection puts the viewer in the video work, itself a kind of series of ambiguous moving photographs.           

Interdisciplinary artist Shabez Jamal remixes archival family photos into sculptural objects and digital collages to explore themes of forgetting and déjà vu. But their work is not included in this project’s checklist. Rather, as curator of i’ve been here before, Jamal realizes the exhibition as a resonant component of their broader artistic praxis. For artists who also curate, curators who also write, and writers who make art objects, Jamal demonstrates that our creative capacities, much like the photograph, are uncontainable by limitations of expectation, categorization, or medium and are, rather, shifting, nebulous, and powerful in their expansiveness.   

The collective works in the show convey the capacity of photography and photo-ish objects to commune with the departed, to transport to the past/future and unknown, and to enliven silences and make noise. These artists use photo technologies to both push against image making (i.e. “capturing” a subject) and break open new potentials for manifesting what and how we see. On a warm March evening in New Orleans, I conclude my visit to i’ve been here before. For me, the title rhymes with the feeling of déjà vu. “Here” is not a place but a nagging sense of familiarity. In my mind, in the photos I took, and on other days — I’ll be back again.   


i’ve been here before is on view at Sibyl Gallery in New Orleans through May 5, 2024.

Everyone Carries a Shadow

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.