Artist and educator Jen Everett collects everyday photographs of Black life in the United States sourced from thrift stores and generations of images from her Midwestern and Southern family. She uses digital and analog mediums to reconfigure and recombine the images that attract her, by doubling or tripling a photograph, by isolating and amplifying a detail, or by collaging and piling up to create an effect of abundance.
Her subjects are never identified, and yet Everett has developed an aesthetic attuned to Black people modeling an ethic of care and intimacy. Her practice is deeply engaged with rupture –upheavals all too familiar in Black life – and how they shape interior worlds in ways that should be noticed and honored. As a result, the artist recognizes the private, intimate aspects of her vernacular images and creatively negotiates ways to maintain their quiet power even as they now circulate in public through her art.
Throughout her process, Everett remixes images of herself in conversation with the materials she collects to talk about Black life, kinship, and collective gathering. Her new body of work, Queer Cosmologies, is comprised of photographs, moving images, and sound. Inspired partly by her 2022 residency on Fire Island, Queer Cosmologies surfaces Black lesbians and queer presence in Black vernacular archives. Everett revisits childhood photographs to ruminate on popular and queer media portrayals of lesbians from the 1980s to the present, seeking moments and venues – the club, the streets, the dancefloor – where freedom and love are possible, if precarious.
Foregrounding the shared transmission of knowledge across time, Everett invites co-presence with everything her work carries. She invokes writer Audre Lorde’s assertion and reminder that “…there is no place to go, except what you make.” With this work, the artist asks, “if there is no place to go, what does it mean to be here?”
Could you dim the lights? is Everett’s first solo museum presentation. Jen Everett (b. 1981) is from Southfield, Michigan, and currently based in St. Louis. Her work has been featured in group exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Baltimore Art Museum, the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago, Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, and many other national and international venues. She was a 2021-22 Duke University DocX Archive Lab fellow.
Blair Ebony Smith, a sound artist and DJ known as lovenloops, introduced Everett’s work to Champaign-Urbana through Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) and Homemade with Love, More Living Room in 2020-2021.
Co-curated by Amy L. Powell, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Blair Ebony Smith, Assistant Professor of Art Education and Gender and Women’s Studies