Tarred Healing

Tarred Healing

photography exhibition by Cornell Watson

January 16 - March 20, 2023  •  Included with admission

Tarred Healing is a photographic exhibition by award-winning Black photographer Cornell Watson. The provocative exhibition through conceptual and documentary photography examines the intersections of racism, Confederate Monuments, and the complex relationship between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, its students, and the surrounding Black community.



There is much to celebrate about the Black community's contributions to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and America's oldest public university, The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. The Chapel Hill Nine and the Freedom Fighters helped shape America into a more idealized version of itself. Black leadership is embedded in our history through pioneers like Howard Lee, one of the first Black mayors in the South. We also remember the multitude of trailblazers that shattered ceilings at UNC such as Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon, Ralph Frasier, and Karen Parker, the first Black students and first Black woman student enrolled in this prestigious university. 

Through their work, we also acknowledge the physical contributions that, in stone and mortar, are the foundations of the institution which are inherently the result of chattel slavery. The blood, sweat, and tears of our enslaved and free ancestors have seeped into the soil, floors, walls, and stones of this community and university. It is only through their determination to survive and persist that we are here today. Their spirit of unbroken resilience continues within us because there is still so much healing and trailblazing work to be done. 

James Cates, who white supremacists murdered on campus, still needs us to fight for justice. Nikole Hannah-Jones showed us that we still need to fight for equity and equality. The UNC board of trustees showed us that we still need to fight for diversity. Rogers-Eubanks still needs us to fight against environmental injustice. Our ancestors still need us to fight for our history to be remembered and honored. We still need to fight and dismantle institutions of white supremacy. We still need to fight for reparations. We need to recognize with intentionality the many forms in which our diverse community seeks healing. 

This photo series, a combination of conceptual and documentary photography, is a reflection of our truth through places, people, and systems in Chapel Hill. It is an unapologetic archive of our feelings and emotions. It is a vessel for self-healing. Despite continued obstruction by whiteness, we will heal, even if it is tarred.


About Cornell Watson

I'm from a small town in northeastern North Carolina called Weldon. My childhood was filled with memories of family. Whether it be summers with my grandparents, fishing with my dad, getting caught when my brother and I cracked our neighbor's windshield with a rock, watching my mother and all of her siblings laugh as we gathered in houses that were too small for family holidays, and family expanding with step-parents and new siblings – life. It wasn’t perfect but it was all mine. In my adulthood, I am building my own family. Building memories of vacations to faraway lands laughs with friends over good food, and now long evenings of watching bubble guppies and coco melon while trying to edit photos and answer emails.

I started my photography journey asking my partner once a week if I could buy a nice camera prior to our first child being born. Eventually, she said yes and the next day (thank you Amazon) a beautiful new camera was on our doorstep and it's been unreal ever since. I've been able to document not only my own family but my community. My photography has been published in publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, including my project about the Black experience titled, "Behind the Mask". After working 8 years in HR/Talent Acquisition, I'm now living my best life as a dope-a** Black photographer. I hope you find what you're looking for here and hope we can work together.

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