What happens when you ask people what they think about race? Who they are and their dreams? What happens when you ask them to write it down? Photographer Wing Young Huie did just that, wandering a six-mile-long stretch of University Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota to create his newest public art installation, The University Avenue Project.
The public photo gallery and community outreach project, funded by Public Art Saint Paul, hopes to illuminate and connect the diverse population of the area.
Huie asked his subjects eight prompts: Who are you? Describe yourself in a couple of sentences. How do you think others see you? What don’t they see? What advice would you give a stranger? What is your favorite word? Describe an incident that changed you. How has race affected you? The resulting startlingly earnest beautiful photographs make up the subject of a book as well as an exhibition.
Huie was inspired by his father, a Chinese immigrant who couldn’t understand his drive to become a photographer, yet served as an example of strength and hard work. His migrant roots reflect Huie’s focus, with University Avenue functioning as a hub for visiting and newly minted U.S. citizens, showing a wide range of people and their experiences.
Photographs of residents holding chalkboard signs boasting daunting messages make up the majority of the book, but Huie also captured longform interviews that add to the engaging portrait of University Avenue. The first volume of the book includes these interviews, as well as essays and insights by Huie on the project, with Volume 2 set to come out 1 August 2010.
This is not Huie’s first foray into public art. His first solo exhibition, “Frogtown: Portrait of a Neighborhood,” revamped a former porn store into an art space. Huie expanded the initial public art seed into “Lake Street USA,” a six-mile-long exhibition with photographs displayed on shop windows and bus stops.
His intentions with The University Avenue Project are “to capture not the exotic or dramatic, but the normal everyday of people living. I wanted to pursue an aesthetic that was hopefully less voyeuristic, deflating the distance between viewer and subject.”
In addition to Huie’s book, his images will be displayed along University Avenue in shop and office windows through September 2010. At night they will be projected onto 40 giant screens accompanied by local musicians at the “Project(tion) site,” an outdoor space created by arts agency Northern Lights. The nightly events also include Cabarets held monthly beginning 29 May 2010. View the complete schedule from The University Avenue Project site. Prints are also available, from $30 to $1,500. Volume 1 of The University Avenue Project sells online from the Minnesota Historical Society for $13.