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Fallen sons: Black mothers recreate Pieta in photo series

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They are photos of fear.

A Brooklyn photographer will display images inspired by the worry black mothers have about police violence against their sons, at two exhibits opening this month, in Sunset Park on Sept. 7 and Fort Greene on Sept. 12. Jon Henry says that his photo series “Stranger Fruit” was inspired equally by Nina Simone’s rendition of the song “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in the American South, and by Michelangelo’s famous Pieta sculpture — which depicts the Virgin Mary holding her dead son Jesus. Henry decided to use the format of the Italian statue and recreate it with modern figures.

“There are lot of stories regarding police violence, and I thought of using the motif of Pieta — but with black mothers and sons recreating that pose,” he said.

The Prospect Lefferts Gardens photographer travelled to different cities and states to arrange shoots for the project. Many of his photos subjects are friends, family, or people who heard about the project and reached out to him.

Each exhibit features more than a dozen images. Some of the shots vary from the traditional Pieta pose in order to accommodate multiple children, or to emphasize the theme of police violence, said Henry.

“The Pieta was the launching point and I using that as framework,” he said. “Sometimes it’s one body or two, but it’s the same story with a different pose.”

Henry said focused his project on women and their sons in order to show the importance of the mother-son relationship in black communities.

“In a lot of situations, mothers are often forgotten about when tragedy happens and I wanted to shine light for the mothers who have lost and show them that they are not forgotten,” said Henry. “Because when everything is said and done, how a mother protects her children is something that affects the African-American community.”

He hopes that viewers will use the photos to discuss the epidemic of extrajudicial violence against black men, and to challenge the societal structures that support it.

“I hope this furthers the dialogue, and for people to realize what’s going on out there so they can get to the point of acknowledging that there is something wrong in society,” said Henry. “We live in a society where mothers are losing their sons to hate, bias, whatever you want to call it — so how can we solve this problem? And if we don’t find a solution the problem is going to continue to happen.”

The reception at Bric on Sept. 12 will coincide with the opening of Mary Mattingly’s “What Happens After,” a sculpture that consists of a deconstructed military vehicle.

“Stranger Fruit” at NARS Foundation [201 46th St. between Second and Third avenues in Sunset Park, 718-768-2765, www.narsfoundation.org]. Opening reception on Sept. 7 at 6 pm. Free.

And at Bric House Hallway [647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 683–5600, www.bricartsmedia.org]. Opening reception on Sept. 12 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Posted 12:00 am, September 6, 2018
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