Arnika Dawkins Gallery is honored to present On Being Black, a provocative and groundbreaking invitational photography exhibition. On Being Black features work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers. The show explores issues of race, colorism and racial identity. The exhibition and the accomplished artists who are in participation endeavor to continue the conversation about race as well as attempt to make sense of the daily news; exploring the questions of how does one identify them self, who defines race and what does it mean to be black in the new millennium. On Being Black provides an intelligent point of view with distinct and observant voices on this topic…On display Fri Oct 16 to Jan 22 2016 A visual dialogue about race in America created by some of the most highly sought after artist [sic] of our time utilizing the medium of photography http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black.html
Obstacles to pursuing an artistic practice while being Black
Please join the Arnika Dawkins Gallery, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and the Museum for a panel discussion featuring artists Sheila Pree Bright, Albert Chong, Allen Cooley, Renée Cox, Delphine Fawundu, John Pinderhughes, and Deborah Willis, Ph.D. The panel discussion will be moderated by Kirsten Pai Buick, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History at The University of New Mexico.
This program is organized in conjunction with the exhibition On Being Black, on view at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery from October 16, 2015 to January 22, 2016. This provocative and groundbreaking exhibition will feature work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers and explores issues of race, colorism, and racial identity. http://museum.spelman.edu/programs/on-being-black-a-panel-discussion/
This article is not a critique of the photography displayed in the exhibition. It is a reflection on the discussion by a number of artists that participated in the Anika Gallery exhibition at Spelman Museum on October 17, 2015 11a.m. The discussion began as most discussions do, going down the line waiting for individual responses with a moderator fielding the questions. These were general questions that were meant to engage the artist practice and issues that each artist may have come across and might have to endure over their career, to which each artist readily and candidly replied.
The timbre of the discussion began to change once Renee Cox sparked the notion that she does not believe in such issues or obstacles. Moreover these “issues” are choices made by artists that blocked their own development. Cox went further to share a story of her father, a British citizen before Jamaica received its independence in 1964, who came to Florida in 1940. He immediately went to the Fontainebleau, at that time segregated. At which point he walked through the front door and argued with the Hotel owner for thirty minutes after which stayed in a room there for two nights. The point Cox made was that sometimes you need to be ignorant of boundaries and demand your space. One can choose to accept these obstacles or ignore them and pursue an individual pursuit. Sure there are situations that can affect the outcome, but if that stops someone’s progress then that individual should choose another profession.
Albert Chong, also a Jamaican artist, seconded Cox’s position and shared his arrival in America, when he was introduced to its specialized racism. Chong also acknowledge the wish for a Caucasian avatar to present his work and navigate the art world. Then Chong added another brick to the fire by explaining the difference as to the misconception of Jamaican pride. He went on to clarify the point by saying that this pride may be perceived as arrogance, but it is not…It is self-love. Self-love is a requirement to overcoming obstacles and pursuing one’s own career.
African American leisure as a form of resistance
John Pinder Hughes and Sheila Pree Bright both offered another requirement as a form of resistance leisure. Pree Bright discussed the pushback on her suburbia series by White board members that did not believe her photographs of Black homes. One of her critics was bold enough to say “I’ve never heard of this Black suburbia”. Pree Bright went on to identify the problem from a White perspective is that the images did not have enough Black identifiers in it-no watermelons, Martin Luther King, references that made the suburbia African American. In this case suburbia becomes more militant than the overt images of Blackness.
Hughes discussed his work that captured African American leisure in the Hamptons over decades and how that is important to the overall make-up of the Black image. The Black image is not this monolithic icon always struggling. Hughes’s leisure is resistance of limitations placed on Blackness.
Dlephine Fawundu rounded out the discussion from a Brooklyn, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana perspective. She discussed how when people from Brooklyn see the images of Ghanaians and vice versa, there is a familiarity of exchange, a recognition of blood. This resounded with another sentiment presented by Albert Chong.
Chong said he was the youngest of nine children to Jamaican/Chinese parents and most of his time was spent learning who the extended family was. He said most of his learning and understanding of his history came from photo albums. Those photo albums gave him a foothold as to his place in in his family as well as the world. Chong alluded to a loss of memory due to the fact that we do not have an intact photo album. Fawundu’s work certainly are building blocks for a restoration of memory.
The crowd kept asking questions until finally they had to be stopped. The discussion ended up being a small global panel as to how artists can pursue their career with fearlessness, leisure, documentation and self-love. Definitely need more discussions on this.
Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.