Charlotta Janssen has a brought a facet of the Civil Rights Movement back to life by way of a new art exhibit featuring mug shots of Freedom Riders taken into custody for not complying with segregation laws. The 35 portraits are on display at Philadelpia’s African-American Museum through the end of September and were inspired by the political climate in Brooklyn, where Janssen lives. “Around the time of [President] Obama’s election, there was so much joy in my neighborhood,” she told News One. “I needed to put it into something.”
A Google search helped Janssen hone in on the inspiration for the project. “The first thing I found was a set of mug shots, ‘One day in Montgomery,’ in 1956 and ‘One Day’ in 1961,” she recalled. “It felt like a real study of a moment and not just a portrait of a person, but a portrait of a moment that I could make artwork around.”
The exhibit of oil-paintings tributes the Montgomery Bus Boycotters of 1955-56, and the Freedom Riders of 1961, all of whom may not be as widely known as noted figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Following a conversation with Freedom Rider, Joseph Charles Jones, Janssen—who is of German-American descent—headed to North Carolina. “It was really the first time I got to experience the South,” she said. “I felt even more compelled to have to recap this story and make this story powerful.
“The issue of race is a really sad subject. It’s so unnecessary, but it has deep roots and a deep history and you have to deal with them in order to be able to move on. I think that I can be of help with dealing with a history like that because I’ve had to learn by default to deal with that history by birth—by the fact that I was born German, as well as American.”
Janssen’s creation displays riders from all over the country (instead of just the South) who she feels were a “crucial element” in the movement. Her intention is to “celebrate” their legacy while simultaneously telling their stories to “all that will listen.”
View some of the photos below.
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