People and their People is a photographic portrait project aimed at documenting people of mixed-ethnicity, whose ancestors played a role in the formation of our country. It’s a way of holding our ancestors close. It’s a way of understanding ourselves better by examining our genealogy, and our shared histories.
OPENING RECEPTION THURSDAY JUNE 21st 4:30 – 5:30
Slemp Gallery, Wampler Library, Robb Hall
on the campus of
Mountain Empire Community College, Big Stone Gap, Virginia
PART OF THE MELUNGEON HERITAGE ASSOCIATION UNION
The exhibit will remain in Big Stone Gap on campus though the end of August, 2018
In the Appalachian mountains where I grew up it was not unusual for someone to ask “Who are your people?” In my family, we’ve spent hundreds of hours documenting our family history, often stumbling upon mysteries and roadblocks. Beyond countless hours in dusty courthouses and overgrown cemeteries, we have spent hours looking at the few old family photographs we have, contemplating the faces of those who came before. The family tree comes alive when you look into the eyes of your ancestors. Often an old photograph carries a story, and the stories can be powerful reminders of both our family history, and the history of this country – which is much more nuanced than Eurocentric history books would have us believe.
The idea for this project emerged in 2007 while finishing a documentary entitled “melungeon voices.” Witnessing people share photographs and stories of their ancestors with such joy and pride moved me . . . I sensed that there were layers of meaning to find in photographing ‘people and their people.’
While many of the first portraits were made in southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee, mostly with individuals who identify as Melungeons, I have since expanded the scope. During 2016 and 2017 I concentrated on making portraits of people within North Carolina, and have recorded individuals who self identify as Black, Meherrin, Chowanoke, Tuscarora, and several who identify as mixed. I will continue to create portraits, and am always seeking individuals or groups who would like to participate.
The exhibit will be installed at the Baltimore Indian Heritage Museum beginning in October of 2017 and is scheduled for exhibit again in the summer of 2018 at Mountain Empire Community College in southwestern Virginia.
Previous exhibits include the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap,VA and The Museum and Archives of Rockingham County, NC. (MARC) During the opening reception at the MARC, I was thrilled to meet several descendants of individuals who attended the Goinstown Indian School. Their portrait is now part of the collection as well.
My heart lies with documenting the people of America in all their various shades. I intend to remind people to seek out the story of their ancestors, celebrate our mixed ethnicities, and remember that we are all connected.
These works are dedicated to my parents Leland Benjamin Williams and Phyllis Gwendolyn Bolling Williams who instilled in me a deep intrigue for knowing ‘my people.’
For information about hosting this exhibit please contact email@example.com