Tyler alumnus’ ceramics and photography exhibition highlights 2020 Black Lives Matter protests

Isaac Scott’s exhibition, “When the Cracks Deepen,” is on display at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens until Sept. 4, depicting his observations of architecture and Black Lives Matter protests in Philadelphia.

Isaac Scott, a 2021 master of fine arts in ceramics alumnus, stands next to a piece from his "When the Cracks Deepen" exhibition at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on Jun. 23. | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Isaac Scott took a ceramics class as a junior in high school in 2007 and was amazed at watching his teacher create clay artwork using a potter’s wheel. 

“The potter’s wheel just looked like magic, with the way the clay moved,” said Scott, a 2021 master of fine arts in ceramics alumnus. “I just really wanted to emulate that and be able to make really beautiful forms on the wheel.”

After a decade of creating ceramics in art studios and exploring other art forms, Scott’s work is being showcased in an exhibition called “When the Cracks Deepen” at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens from June 10 to Sept. 4. Scott’s exhibition has two galleries that combine ceramics depicting both degraded infrastructure and social injustice in Philadelphia with photos he took at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

After losing access to his student art studio at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Scott would go on long walks around his Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and take pictures of aging buildings.

His photography shifted focus from buildings to Black Lives Matter protests as he attended protests throughout Philadelphia after George Floyd was murdered by police in May 2020.

“After I went to that first protest, I was like, wow, this is a different energy,” Scott said. “I’ve been to a lot of protests before, but this just felt different.”

Scott felt his photography gave him a role in the movement by telling history in a profound way. 

“It’s really important that we, the people who are protesting, realize our own place in history and that we need to tell our story, especially Black and brown people,” Scott said. 

Chelsey Luster, the exhibition manager at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, saw Scott’s artwork after they met in 2019 when Scott attended an artist talk for an art show she curated, Luster said. Afterwards, she followed his work and attended his thesis graduate show at Tyler in 2021.

“That was the first time that I really saw all his work displayed at once,” Luster said. “Then I knew that when I did get a more permanent position at a gallery or museum that I would want to have a solo show with him.”

Luster started working at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens in February 2022, where she plans upcoming exhibitions by selecting artists and artwork to participate.

Luster sent an email to Scott in February to ask if he were interested in having a solo exhibition, she said.

While Luster and Scott were creating “When the Cracks Deepen,” Luster visited his studio and saw all his ceramics and photographs. Afterwards, they collectively decided to integrate both components into the exhibition to create a connection between the artwork.

“I know that I wanted it to be super immersive, but also have this great relationship with the photography and the ceramic work, so that it was married well and really seamless,” Luster said.

The first gallery contains small ceramic pieces, including cups. Some of the cups resemble the environment Scott observed in North Philadelphia, whereas others are included in “#Riot Cups,” pieces that portray his time at protests.

He also included pieces like handmade clay bullets on his cups to highlight issues like gun violence in the city.

“What I’m trying to get across is how, not just physically, but metaphorically, how our environment can accumulate on us and how we hold that and how do we carry that environment with us,” Scott said.

Within the second gallery, there is a painted mural of a transgender woman that Scott photographed at a protest who is holding a microphone and wearing a shirt that reads “I AM BLACK HISTORY.”

The mural represents the idea of power in individual storytelling for historical events like the protests, he said

“I think we should recognize those moments and show up for them,” Scott said. “And when we show up for them, we should then, again, tell our own stories in some way, like people have diaries or something like that.” 

Lauren Sandler, assistant professor of ceramics, recalls having many discussions with Scott in her Graduate Projects, Ceramics class about his involvement in the protests and how he wanted to portray that with objects in his ceramics.

“Generally watching the progression of his work the past couple of years now, both the work itself and seeing what he’s done with that, and also seeing the ways that it’s being received, and shared within multiple communities and art spaces is just really exciting to see,” Sandler said.

Scott prefers to document history himself as opposed to viewing it from another person’s perspective. By depicting the protests and decaying infrastructure in his ceramics, Scott provides insight into national issues and the need to remedy social injustices, like police violence in Black and brown communities. 

“It’s great to expose those people to that story and even two years later, after those photos were taken, that story remains fresh in people’s minds, and it reminds them of the things that still need to get done in this country,” Scott said.

Scott plans to continue ceramics and photography, and explore other forms of art, like screen printing and short films, he said. 

“Just finding ways to continue to make art,” Scott said. “That’s the main goal, in whatever form that comes in.”

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