The 254

Jennings Sheffield

By Katelyn Patterson

Memory, Moment and Time

Memory, moment and time are what drives Jennings Sheffield’s art. The Baylor art professor recently had a series of six photographs accepted for the Paris Photo Prize Exhibition. “Recontextualizing the South” was selected as one of 30 to be a part of an exhibition titled “The State of the World” at Espace Beaurepaire in November.

“After the death of George Floyd, people started really listening,” Sheffield said. “Obviously, things got a little tumultuous. During that time, a lot of people were taking down statues.”

Jennings is from Richmond, Virginia where there is a street called Monument Avenue that was home to many Confederate statues.

“A lot of things were happening,” Jennings said. “Some people were pulling down the statues themselves. Some people were expressing their thoughts and feelings by spray painting on the monuments. They really became these places for activists and protestors to use as canvases to express their anger.”

Sheffield decided to document what was happening.

“As soon as I would hear when they’d be taken down, I would grab my camera and photograph when the statues were being taken down,” she said. She took photos before, during and after the removal of the statues.

“The other thing that was really amazing about Richmond was a group of artists was projecting images of George Floyd and civil rights leaders at night on the actual statue of Robert E. Lee that had been spray painted. It was a recontextualizing of what the South was going to be taught, and it was the first time we were having that conversation in the city.”

Sheffield kept her photographs of the monuments to herself for two years. “Having grown up in Richmond, Virginia and having grown up passing by these monuments every day, I was having a different conversation than what I was hearing,” Sheffield said. “I’ve held onto this work for two years now and have never shown it.”

She said historians would ask her when she was going to show the photos, but she didn’t feel ready.

“I was like, ‘I haven’t yet because it’s not my conversation. It’s my time to listen.’ That’s what it is right now.”

Being able to show her work for the first time was exciting and nerve-wracking. “I was still a little leery of putting it out there. But there was a call foxr the state
of the world. And I thought, ‘You know, this is it.’ This isn’t me trying to put an agenda on it…It’s me truly saying, ‘This is where the state of the world was and still very much is.’ I’m excited to be able to say that I’m part of that conversation.”

Sheffield’s work is concept-driven— particularly the concepts of memory, moment and time.

“Those are the themes to my work. The higher conceptual ideas that I do would take sometimes two years to finish… they’re highly tedious. After coming off one of those ideas every two years, I tend to, I didn’t realize this, I have a sort of cycle. But then, I tend to just take my camera to the environment. I find landscape-driven projects that tend to be fleeting, about the idea of memory, a moment in time.”