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‘We are our history’: Austin Peay’s Barry Jones uses Baldwin texts in latest exhibition on empathy

A still image from Jones' video.

(Posted on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022)

Barry Jones

Austin Peay State University Professor Barry Jones’ art exhibition titled “Lesson 6 (James Baldwin)” is scheduled to open on Aug. 17 in the Union Grove Gallery at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

And from 7:30-9 on opening night, Jones will project a video on the outside of the gallery and give a gallery talk about the show.

Jones’ exhibition truly is a family affair – and an exploration of empathy and compassion.

“For several years, I have been working on a series of video projection pieces called ‘Lessons’ that record my efforts to teach my children empathy and morality through culturally significant texts,” Jones said in his artist statement about the show. “I firmly believe that reading is one of the best ways to become an empathetic person and to develop a compassionate worldview.”

During the gallery installation, Jones and his teenage son Aidan read “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” from Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” And Jones created the outdoor projection with his youngest son, Elliott, using quotes from Baldwin’s essay “White Man’s Guilt” and “Black English: A Dishonest Argument,” a speech the author gave in 1980 at Wayne State University.

“We turned to James Baldwin because, at this moment, there is a lot of debate in the United States as to how to teach American history and what should and should not be included,” Jones said in his artist statement. “James Baldwin has taught us how history makes us who we are right now, how we are not removed from it: ‘We are our history.’”

“Lesson 6 (James Baldwin)” runs through Sept. 15. For more information about the exhibition and gallery hours, visit the exhibition webpage.

Jones is professor of new media in APSU’s Department of Art + Design.

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