Henry Obeng: “The Trail”

Poster for Henry Obeng's exhibition featuring a deep cyanotype blue with barely visible text "The Trail"

Embedded Exhibition Forthcoming

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A Second Year MFA Online Exhibition


The Trail statement from artist Henry Obeng:

The work I am presenting in The Trail is informed by my own life experiences. Produced during the heightened isolation of the COVID pandemic, I considered my identity as an African (Ghanaian) in Wisconsin. In this position as a non-citizen, my personal life is being surveilled. Juxtaposing the documentation and personal data collected on me (as an international student) by the U.S. government with imagery of plant specimens that have been collected from outside the United States and that are now housed in the UW-Madison Herbarium, The Trail aims to build a connection between the natural world and me; to consider the experience of international migration.

dark blue cyanotype image of a plant on red-pink paper.
Henry Obeng. “Work 1.” Cyanotype on handmade cotton paper. 2021.

I am inspired by the botanical history, land use, and plant ecologies that relate to us as citizens and noncitizens. This project imbeds personal details that are shared with U.S. immigration and customs enforcement – information that enables a precise surveillance of movement – alongside evidence of plants that have been carried far from their natural home into the UW-Madison collection.

The cyanotype images are presented on handmade papers using pulp produced from the Wisconsin Badger cotton t-shirts. These iconic red textiles, produce a striking color when beaten into pulp. Sourcing this material was based on observations from the university environment, where these T-shirts give me a sense of a new home. These T-shirts are massed produced for students and anyone affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Additionally, each shirt I cut up and use for pulp has been worn, and uniquely carries the stories and features of its previous owner. I am using these textile and botanical materials, which already carry particular histories, to tell my own story.


Red-pink plant cyanotype print on pinkish-red paper.
Henry Obeng. Work 2. Cyanotype on handmade cotton paper. 2021.

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“The Trail” is a Design Studies Second Year MFA Exhibition for the Spring Semester 2021. Originally intended to be installed in the Ruth Davis Design Gallery, the exhibition is supported by the Design Studies Program at the School of Human Ecology. Private installation and events occurring May 8-May 22, 2021. The exhibition is not open to the public.