Johannes Barfield, University of New Mexico adjunct lecturer in the art department, was commissioned to show his new art exhibition “my sun is black as the glowing sea by night” at the University of North Carolina’s Rowe Gallery. This image-based narration is an immersive experience that started its display on Jan. 10 and will be on view until Feb. 25.
The exhibit’s narrative is based on a fictional character, yahyah, who was inspired by two children’s books that Barfield grew up reading — “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats and “Danny and the Dinosaur” by Syd Hoff. Yahyah accidentally encounters a tear in the space-time continuum and experiences alternate versions of himself after walking into the portal.
Barfield described this narrative as “an opportunity for me to reflect on and think on those children books in connection with my life.”
A 30-minute video plays at the exhibition and the loudspeakers attached are intentional.
“It has the ability for someone to walk in and be immersed without having to put on headphones and isolate themselves in the exhibition space,” Barfield said.
Justin Smith, the project’s curator and creative director, said it is “the narrative (about) a Black kid that really makes the story relatable” in addition to its creative elements of science fiction.
“It’s been very fun working with (Barfield) as far as him building his world … with these characters,” Smith said.
Barfield pulled heavily from his personal experiences to create this exhibit.
“As an artist, I don’t ever want to overreach and say what I think something is going to do but I will say that my intentions for the exhibition are for people to have some sort of understanding of my particular story, where I come from,” Barfield said.
The exhibit was originally supposed to be displayed in early 2020 but was delayed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly, it’s been a great experience and horrific one all intertwined but I think that, actually, it’s good that it did get delayed as long as it has because it gave me an opportunity to be able to bring other people on board and have some other iteration of my ideas that I was originally going to exhibit,” Barfield said.
One of those people brought on board was Smith, and as someone who appreciates working with artists that use personal collage-based practices, he was more than happy to work on the exhibition with Barfield.
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“It was really cool how he had most of the ideas he was working with already and I kind of just helped him build them up,” Smith said.
Barfield said the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced some new difficulties for the project but said it makes one see “how you can handle working in freefall.”
“Nothing has been easy for me so adding (the pandemic) to it is kind of like a testament to see how far you can go with the limitations of who you think you are and what you think you can do in these particularly dire straits,” Barfield said.
Barfield and Smith were working on the project together virtually from two different states due to the pandemic’s limitations.
“Given we’ve been working on this show over Zoom calls, it’s been rather interesting to visualize things in a physical form, just trying to work with the limitations that we’ve had, but it has been great,” Smith said.
Concurrently, Barfield is showing as part of the group exhibition “Reckoning and Resilience: North Carolina Art Now” until July 10 at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art.
Barfield and Smith will be having a virtual discussion about “my sun is black as the glowing sea by night” on Wednesday, Feb. 9.
Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716