When Being Seen is Not Enough: In Control
What does it mean to control one’s own consumption? What does it mean to invite someone into one’s own world? The name of this section is titled In Control because this section explores the ramifications of photography which places the idea of control back into the hands of black subjects. These photographs have not stopped at the intellectual point of representation but have ventured further into a complex relationship between the viewer and the subjects within the work. This complex relationship which involves respect, intimacy, vulnerability, humbleness, and any other emotion or feeling that is a hallmark of a true genuine connection coupled with black subjects through the lens of photography and in spaces that are deemed as high art is revolutionary. More often than not black subjects have been subjugated to external views, ideas, and biases that have prevented them from being presented in a way that is authentic, original, and non-monolithic. Whether these external views, ideas, and biases stem from racism, stereotypes, or preconceived notions about what sells when it comes to black subjects, there has always been an uphill battle for representation that humanizes the black subject and allows the black subject the freedom of self and originality. More and more photographers are pushing the envelope when it comes to not only representing the black subject but creating images where the black subject is able to live, breathe, and be oneself in whatever capacity that might look like. This section of the exhibition hopes to explore and showcase work that through shifting power dynamics between subject and viewer, revolutionary forms and poses, and clear emotion and expression, creates a new idea of the black subject and is the future of black portraiture.
“I am attracted to those moments of color and light because for a very long time, I didn’t believe that was really out there for me”. In New Jersey 2019 , Arielle Bobb-Willis, an American New York-based photographer who specializes in avant-garde portitraure, invites us into an intimate moment where this color and light is exemplified. With eyes closed and bodies connected, a moment of intimacy, peace, and vulnerability is produced that one can witness and hope to be a part of. A truly hopeful reminder that one might be able to replicate this intimacy, peace, and vulnerability.
In Awol Erizku’s native language of Amharic tigist means patience and people with this name have a deep inner desire to serve humanity and to give to others by sharing money, knowledge, experience, or creative and artistic ability. Erizku, who was raised in Addis Ababa and raised in the Bronx, reimagines this ethiopian sex worker as a goddess of love. However, this does not make her otherworldly but adds to her humanness. Back turned, her coy and bashful yet flat and austere stare is one that is an indictment on the viewer and a hallmark of her humanity.
Nigerian born Stephen Tayo's Chuka and Dad immediately harkens back to portraits taken in Africa when the medium of photography was first appropriated all over the world. The pose and the stern faces shared between father and son immediately invoke traditional attitudes of respect, honesty, and truth. What is added in Tayo's reimagination is the spirit of expression, compassion, and overall pride in one’s own culture and way of life.
My curatorial statement for this exhibition, semester, and the future are all closely related. My interests vary from fashion to photography to black aesthetics in general and how the black subject is portrayed to other things like ideas about representation, history, and the field of afro-pessimism and it is relation to art. I believe that my curatorial practice is defined by calling attention to new ideas and exploring the ramifications of these ideas within my fields of interest. I love the idea of being able to add something unique and scholarly to the dialogue of whatever topic or field I am presenting and injecting my observations, thoughts, and opinions into the topic. For this exhibition, which operates in the field of photography, representation, and history, I wanted to able to add to the dialogue of representation and the idea of the black subject and explore the complex relationships that can be derived from this future of black representation and aesthetic. My curatorial goals for this semester revolved heavily on me learning and growing as a curator in the intellectual and technical sense. In this semester, I was able to be exposed to many different types of curators, methods of curation, different ways at looking at the ideas of minority participation in museums and decolonization within the museum space.
There have been two visits made by guest curators that have greatly influenced my curatorial practice and those visits were the Dr. Nicole Fleetwood visit and the lecture featuring Rujeko Hockley, Christine Kim, and Julie Mehretu. Through Dr. Fleetwood’s enriching visit and lecture I learned a lot about being able to craft and curate a personal exhibition from the ground up and how to go about properly channeling my passions into a serious exhibition. I enjoyed her content a lot because my interests include photography, representation, and the black aesthetic and I was able to really engage and interact with what she was saying. The lecture featuring the artist Julie Mehretu and the curators Rujeko Hockley and Christine Kim taught me a lot about the technical aspects of curating an exhibition in different spaces (i.e. High Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Their lecture was insightful into the process and communication that curators go through and need to execute a beautiful exhibition. I also enjoyed Julie’s answers to the questions presented to her about decolonization and her art practice. While I don’t agree with her views fully, the information was valuable.
The two readings that resonated with me during this class were the Maurice Berger tribute and article titled “Are Art Museums Racist?” and the article titled “Musuems Have a Docent Problem”. These readings were apart of the week where activism, race, and gender were being discussed in the context of the canon. As a Black and Arab man from the South, I have always understood museums to be lacking in diversity, awareness, and general understanding of many of the communities they serve and represent. However, these two articles really helped me recontextualize my thoughts about a museum is, its function, and how ingrained colonial and capitalistic practices are in museum walls. These readings also really emphasized the idea of the miscommunication between black and minority art and the institution themselves. This problem is a huge reason why I see that value in curating and I believe it informs my practice when I think about art objects and the institutions themselves.
I want to work in the commercial art world as a seller, director, or eventual gallery owner so I do not know if traditional curating will be the most useful skill in my profession. However, I see it as an important skill because curating is not just for aesthetics, but it allows you to connect more deeply with an object and space.
- Ahmed Hussien