'Tarred Healing' exhibit now open at Chapel Hill library
A photography exhibit that was canceled by UNC Chapel Hill is now open at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
The exhibit, "Tarred Healing," was supposed to open in February at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.
Durham-based photographer Cornell Watson explained his photos reflect the Black community in Chapel Hill.
"[Tarred Healing] was a mixture of documentary photos and conceptual photos that told a story about black spaces in a story form," Watson said on WUNC's Tested podcast. "[The photos talk] about those spaces, threaded through the healing process of the black community in and around Chapel Hill and the university."
The Stone Center invited Watson to be a visiting artist and create an exhibit. The center and Watson hotly disagreed over which photos to include in his final exhibit. Eventually, the two parties reluctantly came to a consensus.
In February, the Washington Post published the full photo story a week before the exhibit was set to open. Watson shared the article with the Stone Center and, in response, the center's Director Joseph Jordan emailed Watson saying the exhibit was canceled.
"[The Washington Post] article and its details run counter to our agreements about the exhibition and how it was to be presented to the public," Jordan wrote in an email to Watson. "Under those conditions, we are not comfortable mounting it here, particularly after it has been displayed, preemptively in a different form elsewhere."
Watson maintains he did not violate any agreements.
After the exhibit was canceled, Watson received several offers to display his photos, including one from the Chapel Hill library.
"I believe that public libraries, and this public library in particular, are places where stories should be told and difficult conversations should happen," said Susan Brown, the library's director. "Communities should come together to grapple with difficult truths and histories. So on a number of levels, it really made sense."
Watson said now that the exhibit is open, he feels excited and relieved.
"I feel like this was the way... it should have been from the very beginning," Watson said. "Centered around the community and having the photos shown and displayed and having [programs that are] community centric. I think that everything that the library has done has been exactly that."
Both Watson and Brown credited several local community organizers and groups with helping to put the exhibit together, including the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and Danita Mason-Hogans, a local civil rights activist and historian.
Watson teased that there may be future plans to display his exhibit on a national platform. But for now, he will focus on Chapel Hill.
"I hope people leave here feeling informed, and inspired to do something," Watson said." I hope that the Black community has a sense of feeling seen and feeling like this is a starting point for healing by being able to start to have some conversations around the stories that are in the photos."
The library plans to hold community events centered around the photos. The exhibit will be open until June 30.
WUNC Reporter Liz Schlemmer contributed to this report.