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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jesseca Ferguson: Inspirations

-Kurt Cole Eidsvig

While Jesseca Ferguson typically finds her inspirations from the work of other artists, or the process she uses to make images, the acclaimed pinhole photographer and creator of photo objects is in the middle of a new project that draws from very different sources. Her art has traveled in exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe, and museums like the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France, the Museum of the History of Photography in Krakow, Poland and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston currently hold her pieces in their collections. Most recently, Handmade Pictures by Jesseca Ferguson, a solo show of over 35 of her works, was on exhibit at the Fox Talbot Museum in Wiltshire, England. But in working on an artist’s book for the upcoming exhibition “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” the longtime Fort Point resident (Ferguson has lived here since 1987) is finding inspiration in unlikely places—poetry and politics.

Top: Al-Mutanabbi Street after the bomb attack, 5 March 2007. Photo: Khalid Mohammed, AFP/Press Association

Bottom: The Friday book market on Al-Mutanabbi Street, 24 March 2006

The travelling exhibition Ferguson is currently preparing a piece for is a show of 259 artist books made by 259 international artists/artist teams from 24 countries. The books are being made to reflect upon the March 5, 2007 car bomb attack that took place in Al-Mutanabbi Street, the ancient street of booksellers, poets and writers, located at the literary and cultural heart of Baghdad, Iraq. The show is unique in that each artist team will create three versions of their book, with one entire set being donated to the National Library in Baghdad, Iraq. The other two sets will tour on exhibition in various countries starting in mid January and extending for an indefinite period of time. The first scheduled exhibition in the UK will be at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.

Image by Jesseca Ferguson, courtesy of museumofmemory.com

“It upset me that someone was so angry that they wanted to eradicate history—their own history,” Ferguson says of her decision to help organize the project and create a book for the travelling exhibition. This decision also led her to return to the writing of Meena Alexander, a poet Jesseca met when they were both in residence at the MacDowell Colony in 1993. The book Jesseca is producing for “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” will incorporate text from Alexander’s poetry combined with visual imagery created through photographic processes.

The decision to use poetry for this work was partially due to the destructive nature of the bombing, and the desire to create new books for the exhibition, but was also motivated directly by Meena Alexander’s poetry. “She talks a lot about her history and family—is always conjuring up India in her memoirs, poetry, and books—and has these exotic locales imploding in New York,” Ferguson says of the poet.

Image by Jesseca Ferguson, courtesy of museumofmemory.com

Considering Ferguson’s career and her drive to preserve antique methods for photography and collage, it is easy to see why the March 5, 2007 bombing would be so emotional for the artist. Not only is pinhole photography a laborious technique which requires hours for a successful exposure, the very use of these methods speaks to holding things from the past as somewhat sacred. “I feel photography is a way of stopping time,” she says. “You have something that only looked that way then.”

But the story behind the project also crosses personal lines. Although the bombing reminded Ferguson of Nazis and book burning, she also explains, “If my husband and I were there [in Iraq] at the time, we would have been on this street.” As Al-Mutanabbi Street, with its shops and books, is a focal point for artists and writers—not to mention those who collect materials and texts for use in their art. Artists like Jesseca Ferguson.

So despite the very different motivation, Ferguson’s current project also combines elements of preserving a moment from the past and making it immediate and lasting—embedded with personal emotional response.

Photo Object by Jesseca Ferguson, courtesy of museumofmemory.com

“Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” will tour various locations in the US and Europe starting in 2013, and will also include work by Fort Point artists Mary McCarthy and Laura Davidson.


About the Author: Kurt Cole Eidsvig is an artist and poet who lives and works in Fort Point. He maintains a website at www.KurtColeEidsvig.com. Look for Kurt’s Inspiration posts each month on the site.

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