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Stranger Fruit: The Weight of Absence, a foreword by Deirdre McIntosh

Stranger Fruit: The Weight of Absence, a foreword by Deirdre McIntosh

Home is where the heart is.

Curator Emilie Croning, in her exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario “Feels Like Home,” describes home as “an inhabited space both tangible and intangible.” 1 This exhibition Stranger Fruit: The Weight of Absence featuring the photographs of New York-based artist Jon Henry takes a poignant turn, exploring the transformation that occurs when a home loses a loved one – the very essence that imbued it with warmth and life. How does their passing not only affect their family and those around them but also reshape the spaces they once inhabited?

Jon Henry is a photographer from Queens New York whose work centers around family, sociopolitical issues, grief, trauma, and healing within the Black community. He has exhibited his work internationally and has received prestigious accolades such as “The 30 New and Emerging Photographers for 2022” as well as the “TIME Magazine NEXT100 for 2021”.

The photographs featured in this exhibition come from Henry’s series titled Stranger Fruit, which was created as a response to the senseless murders of black men across the nation by police violence. The series features Black mothers cradling their sons, their poses echoing Michelangelo’s Pietà. In the Pietà, Mary cradles the lifeless body of her son, Jesus, after his crucifixion. While the mothers in Henry’s photographs haven’t directly experienced the loss of a son, they carry the weight of a very real fear.

In Henry’s photographs, you’ll find an unsettling stillness. The silence is heavy, a stark contrast to the laughter and life that once filled these rooms. The single place setting laid for a meal never to be eaten speaks of routines disrupted, while an unmade bed, the sheets mirroring the way they were left, becomes a haunting reminder of a life interrupted. What struck me most about Henry’s photographs, especially those featuring the mothers by themselves, was the weight of absence, which inspired the exhibition title. The mother’s blank expressions hold a universe of unspoken emotions – grief lingers in their eyes. These mothers now navigate a space that feels strangely alien, forever marked by the absence of their loved ones.

In this exhibition, I am concerned with the physical and emotional transformations that occur when a home loses its heart. Rooms of those who have passed are left empty for years, they are silent witnesses to loss. A thin veil of dust gathers undisturbed on every surface. It is these spaces that intrigue me, where the absence of human care accelerates the decay of material possessions left untouched. Objects that once served ordinary purposes now stand frozen, imbued with a deep emotional resonance. The weight of absence feels particularly heavy in the smaller photographs, focusing on these very rooms. Presented in a more intimate format, they invite viewers to peer into a space both familiar and deeply personal.

Viewers are presented with the lingering presence of those who are gone, and the weight of their absence in the spaces they once filled with life. This is a space for contemplation, for acknowledging the impact loved ones have on the places we call home, and for cherishing the memories they leave behind. Each photograph serves as a mirror, inviting viewers to delve into their own memories and find solace in the shared human experience of grief and resilience.

In a world fraught with social unrest and political divisions, Stranger Fruit: The Weight of Absence emerges as a powerful testament to resilience and unity. In the face of alienation and disconnection, this exhibition celebrates the strength of communities and families who persist despite the constant fear of loss and injustice.


“Feels like Home.” Art Gallery of Ontario. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://ago.ca/exhibitions/feels-home.

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