Amanda D. King: Locusts, at Foothill Galleries
Amanda D. King’s exhibition, Locusts, on view December 8 through 18 at Foothill Galleries, is one that understands the reaches of art: that the purpose of expression is not limited to making something to sell; that making art can be a celebration of life; that it can be about service; that it comes with responsibility, that an exhibit can be an experience, more than a display.
Locusts is an exhibition of photos of King’s grandfather, William C. King, Sr., who passed away due to COVID in 2021. During the Pandemic, when families had loved ones admitted to hospitals, they were allowed to choose one visitor who could see them. When her grandfather was admitted to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Youngstown in 2021, Amanda King was, for her family, that person. Photography had been part of her relationship with her grandfather much of her life, and she took a camera when she went to visit. She took more than 100 photos, all on film.
Foothill Gallery is not a large space. For this show, a small foyer is divided from the rest of the gallery by a curtain. Outside the curtain, the first objects a visitor sees are three notes hand written by relatives—one about their grandfather, two more addressed directly to him, describing what they learned from him, how his life impacted them. There’s also a statement about the exhibition, noting that it is named for the Biblical passage—Joel 2:25, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten . . .”
The curtain dividing that foyer from the main gallery makes entry into an event: a ritual moment, like walking into the reverential space of a chapel.
Of the more than 100 photos, just 7 were chosen for the exhibition. Those selected follow her grandfather’s transition, from this life to what her family believes is the next. They show him first at the Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center, removing a sweater; then a close-up of his face, with eyeglasses repaired; then a close-up of his body with sensors attached, in the COVID 19 unit at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital; then flowers, then his hands resting on his body—first in the hospital, and then at a funeral home; and finally his grave, with a cross made of roses laid on the casket, symbolizing the afterlife.
The photos are printed on fabric, evoking shrouds. They are not framed, but suspended from rods, and they have a short fringe around their perimeter, heightening the allusion to ceremonial shrouds. The enclosure of the gallery behind the curtain, the subject matter, the lighting, and the presentation of the images all set a tone of reverence in the room. The effect is heightened by standing alone, or perhaps with only the artist or one other person in the room. Viewers who found the opening reception busy, and who were engaged in conversation at that time will find it rewarding to visit again, when the room is empty and quiet.
The experience of being in the room is important to the artist, and viewers who have that experience will immediately understand why. King would only allow a select few of the photos to be seen outside the gallery. Photography in the gallery is not permitted. Apart from those most universal photos—such as the one of her grandfather’s face–the others would not be appreciated or understood out of context.
Being in the room makes clear the responsibility Amanda and so many people had to their families when a loved one went into the hospital during the peak of the COVID Pandemic, when visitation was extremely limited: the responsibility of being a witness, of being present in those intimate moments, of being the lone person to do so.
These ideas relate to a significant role King has played in the last few years—a part in the conversation about the ethics of being a spectator, especially looking at documentation of someone’s death. To make art documenting death is to risk commodifying it, and raises questions about who has the right or privilege to do so. By controlling the space in the gallery where Locusts is presented, and by limiting the images she has allowed to share outside the exhibit’s context (as well as those she would sell) to the most universal images of her grandfather, she is respecting the intimacy of his transition.
The pictures are beautiful, but that is only a part of the story. The deeper message, or the greater power the images have, is to take the viewer to that point of privilege, the intimate moments of a person’s transition, made even more precious by the conditions under which hospitals operated during the pandemic. If you missed the opening reception, take heart: If you visit the gallery on your own, you’ll find a calm in the room that is appropriate for the situation. But don’t wait, either: It’s on view for just ten days, through December 18.
Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 – noon
Thursday through Saturday, 3 – 5 pm (with the artist)
Call for an appointment: 216.287.3064
masks are encouraged
2450 Fairmount Blvd., Suite M291
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44106