Mt. Tremper: Maureen Cummins, 2021. Limited Edition. Original Wraps. “One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg, and everything blows up.” [James Baldwin]
"Newark 1967: A Narrative in Black and White was produced by Maureen Cummins during the summer and fall of 2020, with typographic assistance from Kathleen McMillan. The project, which began as historical research during the months before the COVID-19 outbreak, quickly became, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests across the country, a surreal parallel to the racism of our time.
The events in Newark that Cummins set out to document arose out of de- cades of discrimination— in housing, education, and government, not to mention longstanding police brutality—all of which culminated on the night of July 12, 1963. When a black cabby, John Smith, was seen dragged into po- lice custody and rumored to be dead, an angry crowd of residents gathered outside the precinct, and violence broke out. What followed was five days of mayhem—businesses looted, buildings in flames, and crossfire from multiple armed forces—that left 26 people dead and hundreds injured.
Driven by her own family’s story of white flight from Newark, Cummins began her research by making weekly trips to the city, first to the New Jersey Historical Society, then to the Charles F. Cummings Center for New Jersey Information, housed in the Newark Public Library. Both resources provided a treasure trove of information: books, maps, protest fliers, news clippings, autopsy reports, transcripts of eye-witness accounts, and press photographs. What the artist did not expect to discover, six months into the project, was the way in which her research would come to life before her eyes: in Minneapolis and other cities across America, scenes from Newark’s racist playbook were repeated again and again: in the form of en-forced curfews, food shortages, tanks in the streets, attacks on unarmed citizens (by police, military, and armed militias), references to snipers, outside agitators,“insurrection,” “left-wing radicals,” and clarion calls for “law and order.”
Newark 1967: A Narrative in Black and White reads as history, memoir, current events, and cau- tionary tale. The text of the book is comprised of ten stories, most of them a chorus of voices, many dramatically different: “The Newspaper Stories,” “John Smith’s Story,” “The Activists’ Story,” “The Law Enforcement Story,” “The Black Survival Story,” “The Firemen’s Stories,” “The Eyewitness Stories,” “The Grand Jury Story,” “The Mother’s Story,” and “My Father’s Story.”
On facing pages, images of events transpiring people. on the ground are viewed through cutout openings within quiet-seeming domestic scenes. In this way, two realities are depicted: black and white, “high” and “low,” the protected and the targeted. Within the pages of the book, which mimic newspaper stories and photos, the artist uses color to comment on color: while the white characters are foregrounded and printed in bold black ink, the black characters are viewed from afar—ghostly, barely there, an allusion to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” A closer read of both sets of photos, however, reveals a more nuanced and parallel story: the double meaning behind the phrase “domestic unrest.” [Artist statement]
All text and imagery in
"Newark 1967: A Narrative in Black and White was silkscreen-printed onto Schaeffer Graphic Board, with laser cuts by Sarah Pike of Freefall Laser. The book was bound by Lisa Hersey using hand-dyed Yukyushi paper for spine-lining and hinges. Period photographs of Cummins and her family are from the artist’s personal collection. All original press photographs have been reproduced by kind permission of the Associated Press and The Newark Star Ledger, with the exception of the images facing The Grand Jury Story and The Black Survival Story, which are believed to be public domain." [colophon]. Fine in Fine Slipcase. Tight, bright, and unmarred. Printed natural board wrappers, black paper spine, black ink lettering, cut out elements, printed natural boards textblock; matching slipcase. Oblong 4to. np. Illus. (b/w plates). Numbered limited edition, this being 17 of 30. Signed by the artist. Item #10595