Re.Migrant Parts 1 & 2



On view: Saturday, August 10 – Sunday, September 29, 2019

In 1952, a woman named Luella Williams migrated with her children from Alligator, MS, to the “promised land” of the North. Luella hoped to free herself from the indignities of sharecropping, cotton-picking, and servitude to the southern white plantation system, with plans to ensure her kids would never grow up in her footsteps. She saved every dime she could, packed their belongings, and left everything she knew behind on a train to Milwaukee, WI, making one stop in Chicago, where the majority of blacks exited the train.

In 2015, I left Milwaukee, WI for Houston, TX. Hoping to free myself from the frustrations of my surroundings, my stagnant professional career and the disappointing quality of life for black people in my hometown, I packed my belongings in a Budget truck and made the drive through a Chicago snowstorm with no sleep. Leaving everything I knew behind, like my great-grandmother did 63 years earlier, I began to recreate myself as a visual artist, constructing imagery that utilizes, details, confronts, and then re-purposes Black history.

Unfortunately, this history is rich with absence. My family owns no land with roots to our days in the South. There are no letters or diaries to explain our history. There are no ancient artifacts or antique photographs that help plug up the holes in our familial tree or give any insight where we come from. And with only two remaining ancestors who even remember life in Alligator, there are few passed-down legends or antidotes that give context on our past before Mississippi. Under this reality, I become a navigator without a map.

So, what does one do with no map? You create one. Or several, in my case. Starting with my own childhood in Milwaukee, I begin the journey to trace grid lines by working backwards. Using collage to merge inactive spaces with active memory, I build the infrastructure from which to mask the holes in our story with possibility. This possibility is constructed from ancestry results, census documents, local media and folklore from my elders. The result is an open book, both fiction and truth, all real yet imagined, that will serve as archives for Butler generations to come.

- Tay Butler

Tay Butler is multi-disciplinary artist based in Houston, TX and working in Fayetteville, AR. Butler graduated in May 2019 from the University of Houston with a Bachelors, Fine Art in Photography and Digital Media. Retiring from the US Army and abandoning a dream engineering career to find purpose, Butler soon uncovered a rich appreciation for Black history and a deep love for photography. Using history as a canvas and memory as glue, Butler has created and showcased historically-layered analog and digital images and video through numerous exhibitions in and around Houston, while building a solid presence through social media. When not visually exploring the Black past, present and future, he is working on numerous projects for an assortment of collaborators, to include the HAITI National Basketball Team and Project Backboard.

Tay Butler is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas’ Photography and Studio Art program.