Review on ArtsATL by Jerry Cullum

Artist Statement - About "Buford Highway Glyphs"

The Buford Highway Corridor is a place where everything happens. It is located on an old, often forgotten industrial highway that links Atlanta Georgia with the smaller town of Buford Georgia. Like other local highways, it most likely started out as a Cherokee Indian trading trail, before what was left of that ethnic group was sent away to Oklahoma. In the last 20 years it has morphed into a social, commercial, and spiritual refuge for a succession of emigrant populations from all over the world. The American Highway has a long tradition of raw adventure and discovery; our music, literature, and art are full of its narrative content.

Buford Highway consists of an unusual blend of global ethnicities including Mexican, Chinese, South American, Vietnamese, Russian, Pakistani, Korean, Bangladeshi, Ethiopian, Dominican, Cuban, Malaysian, and more. Their businesses exist side by side and take advantage of cross over traffic from other cultures to survive. In a sense, by morphing their identities with the English language and the American material culture, and mixing the influences of their neighbors into their own identity, they have formed a new hybrid vocabulary, which is an ideogram of a road map to the future. At least that is their hope, it seems.

As the Georgia anthropologist Susan Walcott pointed out in her research project, Overlapping Ethnicities and Negotiated Space: Atlanta’s Buford Highway published in 2009 in the Journal of Cultural Geography, the Buford Highway area is “an anomaly within the realm of urban enclaves.“

Unlike most American big cities that attract global diversity, Buford Highway, outside of Atlanta, is a rare example of a case where emigrants have often “completely ignored the city center”, (not that there is much of a “ city center” in Atlanta), and headed straight for the burbs, which they often see as a more plausible path to the American dream. As Walcott put it - “Atlanta doesn’t have any ‘Chinatowns’ or ‘Koreatowns.’ We have a mixture. “Atlanta’s immigrants don’t want to be isolated, they want to be part of the mainstream.” This kind of multi-polar world has all but replaced the previous Black–White disparity that dominated here a generation earlier. It is indeed a new structure we’re apart of, happening even in the South. It has become a lot like the web, a physical form of social media.

In this group of photographs I am interested in the visual meta-language that is being assembled by such a society, as temporary or enduring as it may be. I’m interested in looking at the “shape” of language as an object itself within the physical landscape of this strip style architecture. These monuments of seemingly prosaic business signs remind me of Mayan “glyphs”, which carved into stone, formed a merger of art, poetry and a utilitarian language within a physical architectural syntax. Yet, they are more ephemeral, like our tech culture, and not carved into stone. Their structures will exist only in our memories. The glyphs of Buford Highway describe the new global language of a multi-dimensional world, a heterotopia in process, with the city as a constantly changing alphabet.

As for me, my ancestors came to America in the 1630’s from England. They were restless emigrants looking for the promise land. We’re all still emigrants here in this new world and, it is all one big journey.


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