How can art help us to face an uncomfortable past? For artist Maggie Tattersfield this question is deeply personal and is the focus of her work in the Senior Seminar Highlights Exhibition. Maggie’s great-great grandfather is the founder of the Tattersfield Company, and in 1923 he traveled from England through Egypt and Pakistan to oversee his wool factory in the region, bringing with him an early camera with which he took hundreds of photographs of the people and places he encountered. A self-identified “politically active college student” with an interest in Marxist labor theories, she admits to reacting with embarrassment at her own family’s implication in the legacy of imperialism and colonialism. Yet through her work, Maggie melds old and new worlds, fashioning a beautiful array of collages that seeks to face her uncomfortable family history head-on and highlight the colorful beauty of the world photographed by her great great grandfather. She says, “I will be confronting difficult issues in this project, forcing me to not only grow as an artist but also as a person.”
Maggie’s pieces include prints of her great-great grandfather’s photographs which she developed herself. She layers these gorgeous views of rural landscapes, crowded cityscapes, portraits of both family and strangers, and tourist photos of landmarks such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Vatican with strips of brightly painted paper and colorful patterns. Her strokes of paint are short, thick, and bright, contrasting with the greyscale of the photographs. Not only does Maggie’s media blend the old with the new. The technology she used to create these works brings together early 20th-century film development techniques with modern apps like Procreate and Photoshop. She uses graphic design to manipulate the photos, splicing them together or selecting a face or a figure from one and blending it seamlessly into a new environment of color. Her lines of color often rhyme with the silhouettes of the major elements of the photographs, recreating and reflecting upon the content and at the same time re-energizing it to Maggie’s modern perspective. Using her critical and political eye, Maggie draws out who and what speaks to her most from these photographs then assembles them within a framework of color and line that will bring out the shapes hidden within the print. Maggie’s eye does not always match her great-great grandfather’s. She sees the people behind the photos and is interested in their lives and experiences.
Maggie’s work reflects her own interest in the artistic melding of the old and the new. An artist of great inspiration to her is Kehinde Wiley, whose work reimagines canonical Western portraits of white men into portraits of modern Black men. Wiley’s pieces reflect a new kind of eye, one much more like Maggie’s than her great-great grandfather’s and one that goes beyond the masks of privilege to see deeper humanity. Melding Napoleonic equestrian portraits with the New York City urban fashion, Wiley is a quintessential example of reimagining, reenergizing, and modernizing the canon of the art world to reflect a 21st-century crisis of identity. Maggie, as the inheritor of the Tattersfield name and a lineage of a blemished history, has chosen to reinvent her critical eye into one that acknowledges the past but sees a brighter, more colorful future.