Conduit Gallery is honored to announce a solo exhibition of new paintings and drawings by British artist, Sarah Ball. Using two twentieth century photographic archives as the basis for a series of intimate paintings and drawings, the works in Kindred reflect current issues relating to immigration and international policy in the U.S. as well as Ball’s home country of England.
Immigrants, the title of this series is a word that has always been loaded with a meaning and weight beyond the dry dictionary definition. The word is weapon, a political pawn, a tabloid headline, to the point that one might forget that we are dealing with human beings. Sarah Ball, 2015 “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Extract from ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus, (Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty)
In 2012, Sarah Ball began work on a series of portraits painted from historically archived police mug shots. In choosing her subjects, from both her native England as well as American archives, she looked not only to paint interesting faces but also people who may have been on the right side of history but for their time, the wrong side of the legal system. These were freedom riders, transsexuals, homosexuals, anarchists and political dissidents. The resulting images, by untrained photographers, highlight subjective representations of “truth” translated by the photographer, the viewer and ultimately the painter’s interpretation. As Ball states, “I am interested in the act of translation; from the apparent certainty of the photographic record to the malleable quality of paint, my work calls into question history, memory and story.”
For Kindred, Ball delves into two distinct photographic archives; the archive of Augustus Frederick Sherman who documented migrants who passed through Ellis Island in the early 1900's and the recently discovered archive of Costică Acsinte, a Romanian army photographer during World War I who photographed the Eastern European country from 1925 through to his death in 1984 – spanning Romania’s foray into the Second World War and the subsequent Communist rule that devastated the population and exhausted the economy.
For the Immigrants series, Ball worked from the archive of Ellis Island registry clerk Augustus Frederick Sherman. Sherman worked at Ellis Island from 1892 through 1925 and in that time, the untrained photographer created hundreds of images documenting the new arrivals to America. He took photographs of families, groups, and individuals who were being detained either for medical reasons or for further interrogation. In many cases, the subjects were fleeing poverty, natural disaster, and political and religious persecution.
For many, Ellis Island is the ultimate symbol of American immigration and the immigrant experience. On April 18, 1890, Congress appropriated $75,000 to construct America’s first Federal immigration station on Ellis Island. About 1.5 million immigrants had been processed at the first building during its five years of use. Between 1905 and 1914, an average of one million immigrants per year arrived in the US. By the time it closed on November 12, 1954, twelve million immigrants had been processed by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. Today, over 100 million Americans—or something over about one-third of the population—can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island. This makes Ball’s work timely and timeless both in her native England as well as the US.
The Romanian series follow a different path. In 1930, Romanian photographer Costică Acsinte opened a small commercial photography studio in Slobozia, about 80 miles east of Bucharest. For two decades after the war, he was likely the only professional photographer in the county, and by the time of his death in 1984, he had built an archive of epic, anthropological scope containing upwards of 5,000 glass-plate negatives and several hundred prints.
The images offer a glimpse into the daily life during a period when the nation was closed off from the world. Romania disappeared from global view for much of the twentieth century, after they were placed under the control of the USSR following the Second World War. Romania suffered greatly under Soviet occupation. Thousands of leaders, intellectuals and dissidents were interred in prison camps, tortured, or executed. As a largely rural nation, Romania was ill-prepared for the industrialization insisted upon by the USSR and an unknown number of people, estimated to be tens of thousands, were killed during the period of agricultural collectivization that followed the end of the war.
The images are a portrait of the Romanian people through a tumultuous century, featuring images of children playing in the snow, men drinking together, families at work, as well as weddings, lavish funerals, market scenes, and dances. A group of seven single female portraits in particular illustrate life between the wars, with a stark lack of men.
Sarah Ball would like to express her thanks and appreciation to Peter Mesenholler (Museum of Cologne and author of “Augustus F Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905 – 1920” New York: Aperture, 2005), The George Eastman House (Rochester, New York) and Cezar Popescu (The Costică Ascinte Archive, Romania). The Costică Acsinte Archive project’s main objective is the digitization and long term storage of Costică Acsinte’s photographic work (1930 -1950): around 5.000 glass plates negative, a much smaller number of film negative and an unknown number of photographic prints.
Born in 1965, Yorkshire, England, Sarah Ball lives and works near Penzance, Cornwall, UK. Ball earned an undergraduate degree from Newport Art College in 1986 and a Masters of Fine Arts from Bath Spa University in 2005. From January through June of 2016, Ball was awarded an artist residency at Porthmeor Studios, Saint Ives, United Kingdom. In both 2014 and 2016, Ball was shortlisted for the Threadneedle Prize and was honored as Welsh Artist of the Year in 2014 after having been shortlisted in 2007 and 2009. Exhibitions include: Millennium Gallery, St Ives, Cornwall (2015, 2013); bo.lee Gallery, London (2014); The Threadneedle Prize for painting and sculpture, Mall Galleries, London (2016) and Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition, London (2013). Her work features in prominent collections including: University of Glamorgan, South Wales, UK; Mall Galleries, London, UK; The Royal National Theatre, London, UK; and The Victoria & Albert Museum, London.