Join us at NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham, North Carolina, on January 23 to kick off our “Here/Away” Issue with Karida Brown (guest editor), Jamaal Barber (curator, "400"), Malinda Maynor Lowery (director, Center for the Study of the American South), and other "400" artists to discuss blackness and indigeneity.
In a 1619 letter to the treasurer of the Virginia Company of London, Jamestown colonist John Rolfe recorded the arrival of “20. and odd negroes” off the coast of Virginia. You can go to the beach where the ships arrived and stand in the same sand under the same sky and look at the same ocean that those enslaved Africans witnessed. There is a timelessness to that moment. There is a connection to a cultural memory that has been passed down. Now it is 2019. I want to discuss the black American experience, but it is not my story to tell alone. The exhibition 400: A Collective Flight of Memory was first shown in Atlanta, Georgia, and made in conversation and collaboration with black artists of the diaspora.
Conversation is necessary to begin to understand the breadth of the black American experience. The stories that other people tell provide perspective. The experiences of other black Americans inform my understanding of what is possible—whether it’s the story of black people who escaped the racial terrorism of the South or the Black Panthers’ food program or a black business leader in Atlanta desegregating a neighborhood. All of these are the collective of blackness. It is the job of the artist to represent what has happened as well as the possibilities for what could happen. As a black artist, it is my job to tell our stories in all their fullness.
Like other kinds of representation, visual storytelling relies on the viewer’s own interpretation, which is often based on personal experience. There is no single way to look at any image. The power of works created by Hale Woodruff, Elizabeth Catlett, David Driskell, Emory Douglas, and many more have shown me all the ways blackness can exist. I created several works in this exhibition in direct response to important artists who have influenced me.
Collaboration is the show’s other major component. Most of the works were made in collaboration with other artists to create new pieces. For instance, artists Tracy Murrell, Charly Palmer, and Brandon Maddox used my prints in making their works. My own art is an exploration of the meanings of blackness, but I did not want to present the show as though I were the authority on blackness. I have my own experience and others have theirs. This story is ours to tell together.
Charly Palmer, 400 Years, mixed media, 55″ × 36″, 2019.
Jamaal Barber, History, Pt. 1, 2018. Woodcut, 30 × 22 in.
Maurice Evans, Memory Gland, 2019. Mixed media, 36 × 48 in.
Jamaal Barber, What You Need, 2016. Screen print, 20 × 26 in.
Kevin Cole, Lessons That Lead to Blessings, 2018. Linocut, 28 × 36 in.
Larry Poncho Brown, Rebirth, 2019. Digital collage, 24 × 37 in.
Jasmine Nicole Williams, Sweet Watermelon Baby, 2019. Woodcut and acrylic, 35 × 22 in.