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Tarred Healing photo exhibit comes to Chapel Hill public library, kicks off branch 75th anniversary

A student in cap and gown standing barefoot next to a crumbling gravestone. Four generations of a family seated in their historic home. Barricades surrounding a campus monument. These are just some of the images in Tarred Healing, a photography exhibit by Cornell Watson that will be on display at Chapel Hill Public Library from April 30 through June 30, 2022.

The community is invited to the exhibit launch and reception on Saturday, April 30 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, which will include a talk by Cornell Watson.

The exhibit, which debuted in the Washington Post and has garnered national attention, consists of fourteen large-scale photographs and accompanying narratives that reflect the experiences of Chapel Hill’s Black community, past and present. Some images are documentary, like the photos of protests at the University Board of Trustees meetings that resulted in tenure denial for Nikole Hannah-Jones. Other photographs are conceptual, such as the image of a pair of angel’s wings marking the spot where James Cates was murdered on campus in 1970. All of the images explore important people, places, and milestones, from Reverend Robert Campbell and Mr. David Caldwell of the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood to the Clark family and the historic Strayhorn home.

A coalition of Black community leaders, including many of the people featured in the exhibit, came together with the artist to bring Tarred Healing to Chapel Hill Public Library. This group led the planning efforts, from the location of the exhibit within the library to the public programs that will accompany the exhibit.

Watson says that the collaborative nature of the planning aligned with the spirit of many of the photographs, “The Black community of Chapel Hill has faced challenges, solved problems, and joined together over decades of oppression and injustice. Working with them to bring the exhibit, which has had its own challenges and injustices, to the library put that resilient community spirit on display once again. I am so pleased that the community will finally be able to engage with these photos and learn about these stories.”

Lorie Clark, whose family is featured in several photos, says the exhibit is important to her, both as a family member and a community activist and leader. “These photos tell of generational struggles and strengths. To see my family’s history portrayed in such beautiful and powerful images is incredibly moving. I hope that people who visit the exhibit are inspired to learn more about local history and the legacies that have been created. These images should move all to act in support of justice and reconciliation for healing for the people and places in the show.”

In addition to the support of the planning coalition, the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP provided financial support for the exhibit. The NAACP marks its 75th anniversary this year and Anna Richards, co-chair of the Anniversary Planning Committee, says, “Our celebration is focused on remembering what the community was like 75 years ago and what led to the founding of this NAACP chapter. Tarred Healing tells a similar story, and we are honored to support this important exhibition.”

Additional support for the exhibit was provided by Through This Lens, who printed and framed all of the photographs, and A Better Image Printing, who printed the narrative captions and promotional materials.

Cornell Watson is an acclaimed photojournalist and artist who lives in Durham. His photojournalism appears regularly in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other major media outlets. Watson is also recognized for his art photography and photo essays, including his well-known photo series, “Behind the Mask.” His work has been exhibited at The Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, The Mint Museum in Charlotte, and The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. More information about the artist and his other work can be found at

More information about forthcoming public programs, and information about Chapel Hill Public Library, can be found at and by following the library on social media.

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