Oppression exhibit lands at Liberty Arts


Oppression.

Suppression.

Burdens.

These are all words that might be familiar to many in the community. But how do you express a concept like oppression in art?

One local artist seems to have found a way.

 “Structured as Such: Architecture of the Oppressed” is an exhibit by local artist Joe Bigley that debuted at Liberty Arts in February.  

Artist Joe Bigley’s most recent work focuses on societal issues. His work has been featured across the country and as far as Spain and China. (Photo Courtesy of Joe Bigley)

Artist Joe Bigley’s most recent work focuses on societal issues. His work has been featured across the country and as far as Spain and China.
(Photo Courtesy of Joe Bigley)

According to the artist’s website, this exhibit is “a large-scale sculptural installation consisting of a series of interpretations of interior spaces that may be attributed to modes of oppression in a capitalist society.” 

In other words, sculptures reflecting the downtrodden in societies much like our own.

The exhibit follows the idea of oppression throughout American history.

The show includes voting booths, an office cubicle, a solitary confinement cell, and rows of ship bunks. Every piece in the exhibit is made out of reclaimed palette wood, which symbolizes “capitalist activity.”

Due to the amount of structures in such a small area, it is difficult to picture such an exhibit in its entirety.

That was Bigley’s point.

He recently said that the show is cramped on purpose.

“It is borderline claustrophobic,” he said.

Much like oppression.

Bigley received his Masters of Fine Arts from Alfred University in 2008. He has taught at the university level and his work has been displayed internationally.  

Bigley could have displayed his work anywhere, but he chose Durham for a couple reasons. The history of Durham as well as the location of Liberty Arts played a major role.

“First of all, since Durham grew out of the tobacco industry, it seemed appropriate to exhibit the trans-Atlantic slave quarters,” said Bigley.

According to the Stories of the American South – Slavery in North Carolina, a collection of slave information from UNC-Chapel Hill, about 90 percent of the slaves in the state worked agriculture jobs. By 1767 there were about 40,000 slaves living in the colony.

 “I considered how much the tobacco industry used slave labor in NC,” he said. “The actual history of the Liberty Arts space and being a former tobacco warehouse that produced paper products for the tobacco industry, it only felt fitting.”

Bigley also said that he chose Durham because of its entrepreneur spirit and especially that of its black community. Parrish Street, for instance, he said is well known for its concentration of black business owners.          

“Historically Durham embraced black entrepreneurial pursuits more than most southern towns,” he said.

“In many circles it was a model of sorts for the black middle class.”

The exhibit runs through April 6.

To see pictures of Bigley’s exhibit click here.

Contact Liberty Arts at 919.680.0668 or contact@liberty-arts.org for more information. 

Ciera' is a NCCU staff writer for the Durham VOICE.