For our March show, State of the Arts NJ went to the Cape May County Museum to see photographer Wendel A. White at work. White had been given permission to document a rarity, a woman’s Ku Klux Klan robe. It looked like an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform gone terribly wrong.
White travels around to museums and libraries seeking items that speak to the African-American experience, from the first slave boat through the Civil Rights era. His new exhibition at the NJ State Museum, Manifest, features a wide selection of his finds, from a slave-collar to the plain white boxes that hold Malcolm X’s FBI files. Manifest is an ongoing series, and the Klan robe is a new addition.
We watched White at work, tilting the lens on his large format camera just so, creating a very narrow depth of field that lets much of the object go out of focus. He remarked that this technique relates to his belief that we never see the past clearly, but with a selective focus that changes over time. This photograph of the woman’s Klan hood is just one of many that White took that day. The robe was made available to White from an unidentified cultural organization, not the Cape May County Museum. The KKK, it seems, is still recent enough history to make simply owning a robe uncomfortable.
Wendel White is giving gallery talks at the NJ State Museum on February 20 and May 8, or tune in to our story on March 15 to hear more about his work.