There are still a few days left to catch Glo Babcock’s Shallow Water, Oh Mama at Satellite Gallery before it closes Sunday, March 20. Combining photography, theatrics, installation and ritual, the exhibit serves as a memorial to the victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill, specifically those that lived on the banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana.
Last summer Babcock called on photographer T. Pecoul to create a series of sepia-toned photographs of Babcock and her son Dumaine, immersed in the murky waters of the Mississippi river. “I thought of the oil spill and what it’s done to people down there,” says Babcock. “Our generation has failed so much. It was important to me to visually give homage to what was past and what is now.”
Using a fish-eyed lens to achieve drama through distortion, Pecoul captures Babcock’s charisma. Donned in an antique white dress and crown of flowers, Babcock is the ultimate shaman, high priestess and/or Christ figure. She and her son personify the river, as water flows around them and “oil” (corn syrup) drips over them. They are baptized and sacrificed simultaneously with the city of New Orleans as their backdrop.
Some photographs are set in tin frames that appear to be torn open. Oyster shells pour onto the floor in the front window. Names of people affected by the oil spill are written on each shell with a Sharpie marker. A quote by Shelley Anderson, wife of Jason Anderson, who was among those killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast last April, is painted onto the walls of the gallery.
Hymnal sheets referencing the music and ritual so important to New Orleans serve as titles to the photographs. “The music is the vein of what we used to do in the water. We didn’t damage it. We lived on it. We honored it,” says Babcock.
In the end Babcock creates a space that is surprisingly uplifting in spite of the tragedy it memorializes. Visitors can freely interact with the step-up boxes that reveal silent little pictures, and write wishes on scraps of paper for an alter prepared by Babcock. “It’s such a hard subject,” says Babcock. “I didn’t want it to be too somber, too tearful. I wanted there to be healing.”
Satellite Gallery is located at 55 Broadway St. in downtown Asheville. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 505-2225 for more information.