The Art in the Archive: Sourcing Black History and Heritage at Tufts

“GLJ” (2022) is an artwork by Francois that features hand-printed photolithography on wool fabric and AB rhinestones. This work is drawn from Francois’ family archive; the title refers to the first names of Francois and her siblings, who are shown in layered photographs through the composition.
Photo: Jenna Schad

What made you want to use the Tufts archives in particular? How was the use of those materials in a collaborative collage meaningful for you? 

I felt curious about how earlier generations of Black students felt on campus. I wanted a way to represent the experiences of Black Jumbos, and, from my own experience of making collages, I felt like it would be powerful to make it a community effort and build a collage with other Black students. 

The fact that we were able to do so in the Africana Center added to the layers of meaning. We were a group of Black Jumbos in the Africana Center—where so many of the archive’s photos of Black Jumbos were taken—during Black Legacy Month. 

I started out the workshop with a presentation on the history of Black subjectivity, representational justice, photography, and how important archives are to Black legacies and our documentation of our experience. Then, we all interacted with the archives, looking through the images, commenting on them, and creating this collage that would be hung up in the same space where we all collaborated. It was a powerful experience.

If the collage were to become part of the archives, what instructions would you, as one of the artists who created the piece, have for the archivists? What would you want people in the future to know about it?

I think it would be important to remember the way it was created: it’s all images of Black students or pictures of Africana Center records dating from 1919 to the 2000s. But the creation of the collage, and the writing and embellishments it contains, are from 2024. It’s an artifact that captures current Black Jumbos looking at the lives of previous Black Jumbos, and it shows their perspective on the legacy of those people from the past.

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