In the South during the 1950’s, paper fans with wooden handles could be found everywhere. Churches, general stores, beauty parlors and barber shops had them readily available to combat the heavy Southern heat. Many fans were covered with religious iconography. It would be common to see depictions of Jesus surrounded by sheep or praying hands backlit by a heavenly glow. One might also see African-Americans leaders, such as the civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. or the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, while others had advertisements and other secular imagery.
These fans are remembered by older Americans as a part of everyday life in the South, and especially of religion and Sunday church services. In his Memento Series the artist Chris Watts appropriates the historical church fan by drawing African-Americans from more contemporary times in lightly shaded, highly detailed pencil drawings. When displayed together, Heavy D and Colin Powell may bookend the likes of TLC, Florence Griffith Joyner (known as Flo-Jo) and Mary J. Blige. African-American performers, celebrities, athletes and politicians of the 90’s and 2000’s are memorialized, icons of culture are embedded on a Southern symbol of hope and reverence.
Whether the artists’ intent was cynical or celebratory, Watt’s Memento Series take this symbolic object, the church fan, rich with Southern history, and repurposes it in 2016 as memorials to a group of African Americans who have become icons in their own right.
To see more of Chris Watt's work and to see the full "Memento Series" visit his web page: http://cargocollective.com/iamchriswatts/Memento-Series