Mira Cantor’s solo exhibition UNIFORM, 22 life-size portraits of the Boston police, is currently on exhibit at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston. We asked Mira, a 1979 Artist Fellow in Drawing, if she would share how the project – and the exhibition – came about.
I grew up in the sixties when the police were mostly white. The uniforms haven’t changed but the people in them have. They are an integrated force in many cities where there is still a high degree of segregation. I was interested in reaching out to the community to commemorate the people who serve. I was not only interested in the police as a collaborative but also as individuals; people who have hopes and dreams and families to go home to.
I am professor at Northeastern University in the Department of Art and Design where I teach drawing and painting. I started drawing the Northeastern Police about a year and a half ago. One day soon after, I was standing on a check out line in a grocery store behind a policewoman. We started up a conversation and I invited her to come to my studio to see my work. Soon after we had arranged for some of her fellow officers to become participants in my project. I met officers Bill Jones and Fred Allen who came to the studio together. They are one of the longest partnerships on the force. Officer Belinda Barrett has a long family history on the police force. Then there is Angel, a motorcycle cop and Christa, a policewoman who drives alone. Joe travels with his dog, Tiburion, a large German Shepherd. Each one has a story to tell and different reasons for becoming a cop.
My drawings are 93″ high by 43″ wide and are drawn in charcoal on Arches paper. I have looked at the costumed portraits of Manet who presented these singular works in triptychs during the mid 1800s and the large scale singular portraits of Eakins and Sargent. It is the scale that creates the dynamic relationship between the viewer and the image on the wall as both are the same size. One begins to feel a familiarity with the image (individual). You begin to know these people as if you have already met them. The character of each individual comes through the uniform.
I met the events planner at the Moakley Courthouse during an art auction and I immediately thought my work would fit the architecture and context of the building. I made a proposal to her and she like the idea. I received a grant from Northeastern to mount the work and produce and invitation.
The reception was attended by some of the policemen and women in the drawings. It was quite clear by their expressions that they were indeed honored to be represented in this exhibition. Many brought their children, extended family and friends.
The drawings are on the first and second levels of the Moakley Courthouse. The show will be up until March 27th 2009.
– Mira Cantor