JULY gallery

Twelve Galleries Project's JULY gallery presents...  

Underground Railroad Project
  
A new project by Meg Onli
  
July 25 - August 15, 2009
  
In the summer of 2008, Meg Onli walked the Underground Railroad in search of her blackness. The starting point of Meg’s journey was in Rockville, Maryland, at the birthplace of Josiah Henson, the inspirational figure for the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. With so many pieces of the original trail and its detours lost or forgotten by history, Meg mapped out a route that included some accessible and some not so accessible sites of the trail and crossed three of the United States into Canada. Her walk was an epic personal voyage that required her to tap into the wealth of her friendships and the knowledge of perfect strangers. With the helping hands of folks across the American lands, she appropriately concluded her 440 mile walk in Dresden, Ontario at the settlement of Dawn, or the historical site commonly referred to as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


JULY gallery is pleased to present Underground Railroad Project, a critical survey of the goals set, pursued and achieved by Meg and the walk as well as relevant figures of the past and the present. Utilizing documentation as media, this body of work is built of a narrative told through drawn illustrations, in-depth research, and the residual matter of what was quite a trek. Works include typical elements of planning and preparing, as well as records from the field that were kept through daily journaling, snapshots, and the collection of paper documents. An installation, Wall of Notes, includes early notations about the Underground Railroad, its systems, famous conductors, and various codes used on the trail. In some documents, you will find original maps used and a few of those that people collaboratively constructed as personal guides. Character Studies, is a series of drawings that began as a preparation method for the walk in 2007 and were just completed this year. The series began with a nod to the iconic fugitive slave poster and were reflections of Meg’s own investigations and anxieties in planning the walk. Paralleling the mental and physical confrontations met by Meg on the walk, the character of these narrative works is faced with challenges of imagined fantasies and recreated historical occurrences.

JULY gallery is the eleventh of twelve galleries that show the work of emerging artists and intellectuals over the course of one year. With each new month, a new location is selected, and a new gallery is formed. Each gallery's exhibition life is just one month. Brought to you by Twelve Galleries Project.

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  • Wall of Notes

    2009; mixed-media installation; 7’ x 11’. This installation includes early notations about the underground railroad, its systems, famous conductors, and some codes that were used on the trail. In some parts, you will find the original maps in order to assist in direction. Also included within the Wall of Notes installation are pieces of the Letters to Companies that Profited from Slavery series. This is a continuing series in which Meg writes to companies that have profited from Ante-bellum labor, and ask them to sponsor this project. The act of sponsorship is akin to reparations that many African Americans have demanded over their ancestors being enslaved. Companies such as AIG insured slaves as possessions, while other companies like Union Pacific and CSX used slaves as workers. Each letter included a project description and budget. A total of twenty companies received a letter.

  • Character Studies: Midnight

    2007; one of a series of three inkjet prints on paper; 8” x 10”. Before the walking portion of the Underground Railroad Project, Meg began a collection of drawings as mental preparation and were completed as series of three titled, Character Studies. Midnight portrays Meg’s doppelganger in the style of a classic runaway slave poster. The character is carrying all of her belongings in a rucksack and appears weary yet determined. The title references a slave codename for Detroit.

  • Character Studies: Haunted

    2007; one of a series of three inkjet prints on paper; 8” x 10”. Before the walking portion of the Underground Railroad Project, Meg began a collection of drawings as mental preparation and were completed as series of three titled, Character Studies. Under the pressure of the entire project, Meg’s drawing, Haunted, depicts a nightmare. The ghost of a mammy is confronting the character in a graveyard. The headstone shaped composition is shaped like a headstone, befits the graveyard setting that references significant Civil War dates as epitaphs.

  • Character Studies: Dawn

    2007; one of a series of three inkjets on paper; 8” x 10”. Before the walking portion of the Underground Railroad Project, Meg began a collection of drawings as mental preparation and were completed as series of three titled, Character Studies. Rumor has it that there were monuments to the Underground Railroad on both the United States and Canadian sides of the Detroit River. The monument in Windsor was said to shown people crossing into Canada while one lone traveler looked back across the river. Wondering what it meant to both literally and metaphorically look back, once on the walk Meg realized that there was a beginning point and an end point for those who traveled the Underground Railroad.

  • Untitled (after H.B.S)

    2009; inkjet on paper; 33” x 40”. This final piece does not have a place within Character Studies. Referencing a plate from the early pressing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the epically large drawing was completed roughly two years after the beginning of the project.

  • Underground Railroad Project

    2009; installation view (west).

  • Underground Railroad Project Photographic Documentation

    2007-2009; 35 mm photographs projected.

  • Wall of Notes

    2009; mixed-media installation; 7’ x 11’. This installation includes early notations about the underground railroad, its systems, famous conductors, and some codes that were used on the trail. In some parts, you will find the original maps in order to assist in direction. Also included within the Wall of Notes installation are pieces of the Letters to Companies that Profited from Slavery series. This is a continuing series in which Meg writes to companies that have profited from Ante-bellum labor, and ask them to sponsor this project. The act of sponsorship is akin to reparations that many African Americans have demanded over their ancestors being enslaved. Companies such as AIG insured slaves as possessions, while other companies like Union Pacific and CSX used slaves as workers. Each letter included a project description and budget. A total of twenty companies received a letter.

  • Character Studies: Midnight

    2007; one of a series of three inkjet prints on paper; 8” x 10”. Before the walking portion of the Underground Railroad Project, Meg began a collection of drawings as mental preparation and were completed as series of three titled, Character Studies. Midnight portrays Meg’s doppelganger in the style of a classic runaway slave poster. The character is carrying all of her belongings in a rucksack and appears weary yet determined. The title references a slave codename for Detroit.

  • Character Studies: Haunted

    2007; one of a series of three inkjet prints on paper; 8” x 10”. Before the walking portion of the Underground Railroad Project, Meg began a collection of drawings as mental preparation and were completed as series of three titled, Character Studies. Under the pressure of the entire project, Meg’s drawing, Haunted, depicts a nightmare. The ghost of a mammy is confronting the character in a graveyard. The headstone shaped composition is shaped like a headstone, befits the graveyard setting that references significant Civil War dates as epitaphs.

  • Character Studies: Dawn

    2007; one of a series of three inkjets on paper; 8” x 10”. Before the walking portion of the Underground Railroad Project, Meg began a collection of drawings as mental preparation and were completed as series of three titled, Character Studies. Rumor has it that there were monuments to the Underground Railroad on both the United States and Canadian sides of the Detroit River. The monument in Windsor was said to shown people crossing into Canada while one lone traveler looked back across the river. Wondering what it meant to both literally and metaphorically look back, once on the walk Meg realized that there was a beginning point and an end point for those who traveled the Underground Railroad.

  • Untitled (after H.B.S)

    2009; inkjet on paper; 33” x 40”. This final piece does not have a place within Character Studies. Referencing a plate from the early pressing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the epically large drawing was completed roughly two years after the beginning of the project.

  • Underground Railroad Project

    2009; installation view (west).

  • Underground Railroad Project Photographic Documentation

    2007-2009; 35 mm photographs projected.