“Workers Dreaming,” Photographs by elin o’Hara slavick – Exhibition on View at KIE

Public Reception: Friday, October 19, 5:30-7:00 PM, as part of Third Friday Durham.

Now on view at the Keohane-Kenan Gallery at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Workers Dreaming is a series of 22 large-scale, color photographs (1999-2006) by Chapel Hill-based artist elin o’Hara slavick. Each photo is a portrait of a worker in their place of work – a street cleaner, a deli worker, a taxi driver – with their eyes closed, as if in a state of dreaming. Are they thinking about a faraway place that they would rather be? Are they taking a quiet break from their responsibilities? Each subject is an island of temporary calm in a busy, blue-collar workday.

Workers Dreaming performs in the spaces between labor and leisure, agency and servitude,” says slavick, Professor of Studio Art at UNC-Chapel Hill. “It is about the daily forgetting of those workers who build, clean, and transform spaces, often invisibly.”

Slavick wants her photo series to transform the way we see, acknowledge, and interact with workers today. “Fundamentally these photographs are about labor: those who perform it and who are often under-recognized, under-paid, and unnoticed. Although our eyes are open, we are often blind to beauty, to injustice, to cultural difference, and to class structure,” she says. “They deny us their return gaze, but offer us a meditative space. They are at once empowered and lost — in their own imaginings, desires, hopes, and self-consciousness.”

While eyes of the workers in slavick’s photographs are closed, we are aware that each of her subjects sees, feels, smells, and knows their situation intimately. And for all the workers slavick has documented, there are hundreds of thousands more: working assembly lines, sewing seams, pouring hot beverages, mopping a floor, collecting tickets, and all, at one time or another, probably daydreaming. “These workers — remembered and actual — inspire the photographs. They are mortal, majestic, tired, heroic, beautiful, and deeply human.” 

The Kenan Institute for Ethics’ exhibition of Workers Dreaming is the most extensive showing of the series to date. Portions have been previously exhibited at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, the Weatherspoon Art Gallery at UNC Greensboro, and the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Raleigh, as well as at locations outside of North Carolina: the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University; the Pinkard Gallery at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore; and Square Blue Gallery in Los Angeles.

A reception for the artist will be held on Friday, October 19, from 5:30-7:00 PM, as part of Third Friday Durham.

Workers Dreaming will be on view through December 31, 2018.

Admission is free. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 8-5.

Keohane-Kenan Gallery, The Kenan Institute for Ethics
102 West Duke Building, Duke University
1364 Campus Drive, East Campus
Durham, NC 27708

PHONE: 919-660-3033

EMAIL: kie@duke.edu


Images above by elin o’Hara slavick:

Matilde Llambi, Venice Biennale Attendant cleaning Fred Wilson’s Installation, Venice, Italy, 2003.

Salvador Sonchez, Waiter at Torreros, Durham, North Carolina, 2002.