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Artist keeps alive lost stories of unsung heroes from history through 'The Encyclopedia of Invisibility'

Tavares Henderson Strachan is a Bahamian-born conceptual artist who creates monumental allegories telling forgotten cultures, human aspirations, and mortal limitations.

Artist keeps alive lost stories of unsung heroes from history through 'The Encyclopedia of Invisibility'
Cover Image Source: Youtube / Macfound

Tavares Henderson Strachan is a Bahamian-born conceptual artist who activates the intersections of art, science, and politics and creates monumental allegories telling forgotten cultures, human aspirations, and mortal limitations. According to Good Good Good, when Strachan took the TED2023 stage in Vancouver, he spoke of his encyclopedia: “The Encyclopedia of Invisibility.” The leather-bound book has 3,000 pages with over 17,000 entries and was created over 12 years alongside a team of researchers and explorers who “combed the globe” to find “people, places, and things that were mostly untold.” The encyclopedia garners knowledge of things you may never learn about in school. 

Cover Image Source:  Artist Tavares Strachan speaks at the Sotheby's Institute of Art, The Eli And Edythe Broad Stage and Claremont Graduate University Host Artists, Activism, Agency on February 11, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images for ABA)
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11: Artist Tavares Strachan speaks at the Sotheby's Institute of Art, The Eli And Edythe Broad Stage and Claremont Graduate University Host Artists, Activism, Agency on February 11, 2019, in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images for ABA)

 

During his 1999 journey to the North Pole, Strachan devoted himself to studying Matthew Henson, an African American polar explorer and co-discoverer of the North Pole, whose contributions were lost to history. It prompted an installation project by the artist: “The Distance Between What We Have And What We Want,” in which he excavated a 4.5-ton block of ice from the Alaskan Arctic and brought it to his native Bahamas home to put on display in a solar-powered freezer. The 2006 installation spoke of Earth’s fragility, the strangeness of cultural and physical displacement, and the legacy of Henson. When his Bahamian community received encyclopedias, the first person Strachan looked for was Henson.



 

 

He flipped over the pages, but to no avail, and he realized that nobody from his community was in there, either. “And if they were missing,” he said on the TED stage, “What else was lost?” It is when “The Encyclopedia of Invisibility” was brought to the world to celebrate and remember these unsung heroes of history. The book contains entries on Henson, Minos, and one of history’s only documented all-female armies, Robert Smalls. Smalls freed enslaved people from a ship and later became the first Black congressman in the U.S., and Sister Rosette Tharpe, the godmother of rock n’ roll. “My work became a quest telling these lost stories,” Strachan said in his talk. “If you pay attention, you start to see these lost stories all around you.”



 

 

The encyclopedia was initially published as an artwork with the ideas of sculpture and installation. This milestone project will leave a mark on history and will serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. “There are an infinite amount of stories to be told, and there are no limits on how they can be told,” said Strachan. He also talked about his 2018 piece “ENOCH,” made in collaboration with SpaceX and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “ENOCH” is a golden sculpture inspired by the Egyptian tradition of imbuing the essence of a person in a container. The sculpture was made in honor of Robert Henry Lawrence, the first Black astronaut who never realized his dream of space exploration after being killed in a flight accident at 32.



 

 

The dream of Strachan was to “bring his profound legacy to space” and “celebrate it among the stars.” After nearly 50 years after Lawrence’s death in 2018,  “ENOCH” blasted into space and orbited as a satellite, combining the worlds of science and technology with art and humanity. “I’ve spent my entire life being obsessed with these lost stories,” Strachan noted. “Can these lost stories hold a key that unlocks our sense of belonging?” He ended his speech at TED2023 by saying, “Lost stories need to be told,” adding, “Not in small ways, but in ways that match the ambitions of the people we speak for.” 

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