Love Letter to Jeannene Przyblyski

A group of 19th century soldiers in uniform pose of a photo crouched before, standing before and atop a crude barricade of square bricks.
John Minchillo. Paris barricades, March 18, 1871. Photograph. Courtesy of the The New York Times.

As I struggle to find a place to start, I summon guidance from the barricade photographs that grounded your work for decades. You described the haunted images, made in the streets of Paris on March 18, 1871, as a hybrid crossing of historical document and street theater.

Look at them, you said.

In graduate school, at the San Francisco Art Institute, you demonstrated how a historian could be an artist—or an artist a historian. You introduced us to Jane Jacobs and Walter Hood, Trinh T. Minh Ha, and Miwon Kwon. We debated public art, read Vito Acconci, learned terms like “dialogical,” and spent begrudged hours sitting in the Civic Center plaza (only now do I understand why).

I remember when you asked us to draft a manifesto. Not an artist statement, but a public declaration of our intentions and values. 

We had to take a position.

Just last year, for a brief afternoon, you were again leading my class. Bathed in California light, you performed for the camera (as we all do on Zoom) and implored the students to identify their touchstones, to be bold in their questions.

Jeannene M Przyblyski, untitled, 1980. Photograph. Courtesy of Artstor.

There’s a photograph of you, part of a tongue-in-cheek “feminist scrapbook” you made as a young undergraduate at UCSD. Looking into the camera, you sit on a bed, hands folded, rigid posture, daring us to look back. There’s a poster behind you, Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants. I wonder what you saw in that photograph. If you were here now, how would you help us look?

We’re here because of you.
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