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Shadow and Substance

Photo collection illuminates overlooked history.

You canít accuse Modupe Labode of tackling small challenges.

When the IU School of Liberal Arts assistant professor was offered the chance to turn a photo coll ection by New York City ophthalmological surgeon Dr. Stanley Burns into the "Shadow and Substance" exhibit at the Indiana State Museum, she was ready, willing and eager.

Eager even though it meant sifting through thousands of photos that depicted the depth and breadth of African-American life in the U.S.; even though it meant setting aside some exceptional photos in favor of others, simply because the exhibit could feature just a portion of Burns's pictures.

In the end, she selected 110 images that illuminated lives of tragedy and celebration, quiet joy and exuberant gatherings, work and family, and perhaps most of all, strength and perseverance.

"It's really an extraordinary collection," says Labode, who believes "Shadow and Substance" gave visitors a glimpse of the day-to-day life of African-American families. The shots included family photos, commercial photos and more.

"These weren't supposed to be art images," says Labode, one of the many talented IUPUI faculty members who are part of the public scholars program. "My main goal was to have viewers connect with the images."

Labode's teaching and research interests include both history and museum studies, and the "Shadow and Substance" project was a "perfect blend of both." The pictures featured "some disturbing pictures" of lynchings, slavery and Jim Crow, she says, but they also offered "the dream life" of African- Americans, "how they wanted to be represented, how they saw themselves."