Students and faculty gathered in Kissell auditorium for a lecture by visiting artist and photographer, Jared Thorne, last Monday. Thorne is a current associate Art professor at The Ohio State University. Prior to teaching at Ohio State, Thorne taught for five years in South Africa. He received his bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Dartmouth College and his Fine Arts Master from Columbia University. As a photographer, Thorne “seeks to challenge hegemonic as well as self-imposed constructs of Black identity in America and beyond.”
Over a hundred individuals listened as Thorne began his presentation with an ode to deceased basketball star, Kobe Bryant. While Thorne mentioned his life-long admiration for the athlete, he also highlighted the dropped sexual assault case that Bryant was involved in. Thorne’s purpose for including this controversial information was to inform the audience about the events that make up an individual’s legacy. While Bryant will undoubtedly be remembered for his successful career, the other potentially grim details about his life will also not be forgotten.
Thorne’s curiosity with the dangers of romanticizing athletes was also the inspiration for his project, “The Biggest Colored Show on Earth;” the project in which Thorne painted troubled sports figures in blackface to examine the role of black masculinity in society. One of these images is of a Tiger Woods figurine; the professional golfer who admitted to having multiple affairs. Images from the project can be found on Jared Thorne’s website.
Another one of the projects that Thorne discussed was his work photographing twenty-six Planned Parenthood facilities throughout the state of Ohio. Thorne explained how “contemplating the power and desire manifest” in the Ohioan landscape and architecture was the inspiration for the project. He stressed his curiosity with the strategic locations of these facilities and the stigma associated with Planned Parenthood.
Though Thorne’s work may seem controversial to some, to many Wittenberg students and faculty, his work enables important conversations about a variety of cultural and societal issues.
“Art can allow for recognition to happen,” Wittenberg Art professor Elena Dahl said. “You can’t ignore it if it is screaming in your face.”
Even at a small liberal arts institution like Wittenberg, Dahl pressed that Thorne’s photography, and the resulting conversations about his work, can insist on change to happen. The communicative nature of Thorne’s work stems from his decision to capture the aspects and individuals of a culture that has been historically overlooked.
“Black history is an artform that is not necessarily pretty, but the truth,” Wittenberg student Lauren Faircloth (’21) said. Thorne’s tenacious decision to not shy away from controversial issues is in part a response to the growing dialogue about the type of work artists should be producing. As a photographer, Dahl explains the complexity of choosing to display artwork that is guaranteed to upset many viewers.
“It is a fine line to walk between getting your work ignored,” Dahl said. “I can show you how to photograph, but people like him can make art.” While Thorne may be walking that “fine line,” his work continues to be exhibited globally.
Following the presentation, attendees were invited to a reception in the Ann Miller Gallery where Thorne’s exhibit, “Excerpts,” has been on display since the beginning of January. Thorne describes his project as an examination of “the Black experiences in America with a specific focus on the nation’s cultural and structural responses to black bodies.” The exhibit includes twelve large-scale photographs and stars a few well-known Black figures. A piece entitled “44” features President Barack Obama and another entitled “MLK” features the historic reverend. The exhibit will be on display until Feb. 14.