The West Philadelphia coalition We Embrace Fatherhood, in association with the Mantua Civic Association, PC Radio Live and the Barnes Foundation, marked Father’s Day weekend with a public art installation by Ken McFarlane that was projected onto the Barnes Foundation façade. “From the Root to the Fruit: Portraits of Black Fathers and Their Children,” was a multi-media installation comprised of monochromatic stills and video. These images were interwoven with quotes about fatherhood pulled from interviews with the subjects. The installation was a COVID-19 safe environment: The Barnes Foundation is located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of Philadelphia’s cultural arts corridor, and McFarlane’s photographs were viewable from the Barnes’s South East plaza as well as from the streets.
WorldStage supported “From the Root to the Fruit” by providing four Panasonic 20K-lumen projectors and power distribution to multi-award winning Projection Designer Jeff Sugg. Two projectors were dedicated to each of the façade’s right-angle walls, which served as projection surfaces for the installation that was displayed from 8 to 11 pm on Saturday and Sunday, June 20-21. The presentation was a 16.5-minute cycle that looped throughout the evening.
“This project was so prescient in terms of the news of the day, and it was great to be able to amplify Ken’s work,” says Sugg. He points out that in 2019 prints of 11 of McFarlane’s images appeared on the boarded up windows of the Traction Company building, a shared workshop and artists’ studio in West Philadelphia. The very successful year-long installation was experienced almost exclusively by residents of the Mantua neighborhood.
“The project on Black fatherhood was born out of a narrative I witnessed and experienced and is based on controlling our narrative, our own stories,” explains Ken McFarlane. “It’s about reclaiming our image; it’s aspirational and evidential based on things we know to be true.”
Community activists De’Wayne Drummond and Derrick Pratt Sr. sought to continue McFarlane’s photography series, both within Mantua and beyond. So Drummond and Pratt, along with fellow We Embrace Fatherhood members Dante Leonard, Tony-winning Sound Artist Robert Kaplowitz and Sugg, got to work.
After much discussion about an appropriate and meaningful location, the group approached the Barnes Foundation with the project. The Barnes Foundation façade and the upcoming celebration of Father’s Day provided the ideal context to confront the myth of absentee Black fatherhood by sharing positive and deeply authentic portraits of the community on a grand scale at a city-wide platform.
“This was the first public art exhibition in Philadelphia in the time of COVID-19,” notes McFarlane. “Allowing the people in the photographs to be able to see themselves projected 30 feet high was a wonderful thing for the families as well as the general public. Projecting the photographs publicly gave them a whole new perspective.”
Jeff Sugg, who has had an almost two-decade relationship with WorldStage, approached the company about donating its equipment for the installation. “WorldStage has supported me from my downtown experimental days to Off Broadway and Broadway,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, WorldStage is the gold standard of video providers. We had a short timetable for this project, and WorldStage was able to supply what we needed quickly and thoroughly.”
“The project would not have been possible without WorldStage,” McFarlane declares. “That WorldStage supported and lifted up this body of work was very humbling, and I’m very appreciative of their contribution. Everything worked out amazingly!”
While “From the Root to the Fruit” was McFarlane’s first experience with projection he says, “I hope it won’t be my last. Projection is certainly the way to present art in this time we live in, and given time we’ll produce something wonderful the next time, too.”
Sugg worked with a small volunteer crew organized by Kaplowitz. Team members were Robin Stamey, Toby Pettit, John Kolbinski, Sebastienne Mundheim, Zack McKenna, Jen Cleary, Drew Billiau and Jeremy Hugo.
At WorldStage Vice President of Innovation and Technical Solutions Lars Pedersen served as Account Executive with Chris Guzman the Project Manager.