Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town
by Matt Eich
Exhibition Dates: December 8 – February 28, 2019
Reception & West Coast Book Launch:
Saturday, December 8, 2018
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Matt Eich’s work studies the American Condition and is focused on the weight of our collective memory as Americans. In this solo show for the Artist, we present the second of four visual volumes, Sin and Salvation in Baptist Town from the larger oeuvre The Invisible Yoke.
In this work, Eich documents the citizens of the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, Mississippi, one of the oldest African American communities in the state. It sprung up in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, and is celebrated for its historic blues musicians, but there are no white picket fences or broad lawns here. As in Eich’s other works, this series is a reflection on what it means to be an American today. This is the story of a community within our nation like so many others.
We like our national narratives neatly composed and idyllic, but there is no clean way to address a national history as muddy as the silt in the Mississippi Delta itself. As a society, we have at best forgotten and at worst ill-addressed the cost of the American dream: slavery, genocide, deep-rooted poverty, systemic oppression, and seemingly never-ending war. Will we ever stop to question if the comfort of some is worth the price for all, or ask what higher ground we could build on instead?
Indeed, the longer we allow these issues to fester unresolved the darker our future becomes and the less deserving our reign as the self-proclaimed “Leaders of the Free World” seems. These works speak to a tight-knit yet turbulent community, one rich with history yet stalked by poverty. Full of hope, faith, family, and fringed by violence. These works singe our soul, steal our breath, and cry out for consciousness, asking what kind of future we want to build together. We cannot unwrite our country’s dark chapters, but we can shine a light on our common humanity and walk towards this light hand in hand.
If [we]could unify, we would see a major change. But here the mindset is every man for himself. If you see signs of unity, the people in power (both white and black) discredit the positive movement to maintain their rich lives and the privileges that they have obtained. I learned the rich feel persecuted when [asked] to relinquish power, money, or control to the less fortunate.
– Dash Brown (Baptist Town resident)
The “sins” referred to in the title of this work are my own: the sin of my absence from my family for more than 120 days over 7 years while making these photographs; the folly to think that I could ever impact systemic race and class disparities with photographs; and the act of trespass as an outsider seeking to enter and depict a community that is not mine. Even in my transgression, the act of engagement offered the only path to redemption I knew. This place is a microcosm of a story that plays out in every corner of America. History repeats itself. Our collective memory favors the convenience of amnesia over acknowledging the damage that we continue to inflict upon one another. We are all sinners and saints.
– Matt Eich
About the Artist: Matt Eich (b. 1986) holds an MFA in Photography from Hartford Art School’s International Program, and a BS from Ohio University. When Eich hones in on a project he dedicates years to it, returning again and again to the communities he documents. He has received grant support from such notable sources as The Alexia Foundation, the Aaron Siskind Foundation, NPPA, National Geographic Magazine, and two Getty Images Grants. His work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Portland Art Museum, Light Work, and the The New York Public Library, among others.
About the Book: Swiss publisher Sturm & Drang is committed to releasing limited-run monographs of all four bodies of work belonging to the larger oeuvre The Invisible Yoke; Carry Me Ohio released in 2016 and sold out immediately. Sin and Salvation in Baptist Town (2018) will be followed by remaining series: The Seven Cities, and We, the Free, anticipated in 2019 and 2020 respectively.