Sandra Brewster makes art full of movement and memories.

Her pieces, a video projection and eight worn grayscale portraits of blurred Black subjects on white backgrounds, are on display at Hartnett Art Gallery as part of an exhibition titled “Precious Sense,” the most recent installment in her series titled “Blur.”

Her process makes her pieces seem weathered, with creases, tears, and printing imperfections that mimic the appearance of old photographs. The subjects sit and shift while being photographed using a low shutter speed. She manipulates the pictures, prints them reversed, uses a gel to transfer them onto archival paper, then rubs away the initial medium so only the ink is left behind. 

She discussed her work over Zoom with a small in-person audience at the Humanities Center on Wednesday. The talk was part of the Sawyer Seminar series “Unbordering Migration in the Americas” that, according to their website, “enables interdisciplinary research into the movement of peoples in the Western Hemisphere both past and present, with an emphasis on issues of social justice.”

Brewster said her art is about migration, memory, community, identity, intimacy — all subjects that she has tackled for the duration of the “Blur” series.

Her parents’ relocation to Canada from Guyana in the late 1960s is a central inspiration for her work. She said her pieces take the idea of migration and embody it in the motion of her subjects while commenting on the preciousness of transmitted memories.

In fact, she began the talk by presenting the audience with examples of old, weathered photographs of her parents from the 1960s and 1970s to spotlight that inspiration.

“I often refer to the work’s connection to old photographs and the preciousness of these tangible archival pieces that we keep no matter how tattered they get,” she said over email. “They can be fractured and creased and tattered yet at the same time beautiful as they hold so much meaning for us.”

The blurring of her subjects’ faces also serves as a commentary on the tension between retaining individuality while being part of a group, and on negative media portrayals and perceptions of minority communities.

“What I was also interested in was the inability to fix these people,” Brewster said. “A continuous interest of mine is the whole perception of certain communities as monolithic, the idea that people of the same community are the same despite the wealth of individuality in every person.”

Leaving the viewer unable to pin down the subjects’ identities, the facial blurring in Brewster’s art is intended to emphasize everyone’s right to withhold parts of themselves even while embracing community, she says.

“Precious Sense” is open for free viewing in Hartnett Art Gallery on Wednesdays-Saturdays from 12-7 p.m. until Feb. 19, and the Sawyer Seminar series will be holding talks periodically through the semester.

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