Making CONNECTIONS;

A lot of people enjoyed the article Lisa Henry wrote for a prior issue of Nueva Luz, and I certainly felt fortunate to have her as one of our reviewers during our Portfolio Review Sessions at Calumet (Sept 08).

© Sonya Lawyer
© Sonya Lawyer

So when she told me she was curating an exhibition in NYC and wanted to get in touch with some of the photographers she met at our event and saw on our website, I did a happy dance on their behalf. It is such great news to hear of lasting connections – which also made a suitable theme for her exhibition.

The photographers in the exhibition Connections opening at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in NY and San Francisco, were selected because they engage in a compelling dialogue between the past and the present,  the personal and  political, and most importantly between the artists and their subjects. They are tackling the complexities within race, gender, identity in America.

© Deborah Jack
© Deborah Jack

Within the show, which combines painting, works on paper and sculpture curated by gallery owner Karen Jenkins Johnson, emerges three central themes: works showcasing the techniques available to photographers today (from tintypes, to appropriation, to digital – as seen in Hank Willis Thomas, Sonya Lawyer or Keliy Anderson-Staley’s work); photographs that document a strong connection to a particular community (like Gerald Cyrus’ jazz musicians or Sheila Pree Bright’s Young Americans); and finally, images that draw our attention to the various landscapes, homes and places that we inhabit (seen in Deborah Jack, Hiroshi Watanabe and Felicia Megginson’s work).

© Sheila Pree Bright
© Sheila Pree Bright

Connections looks at photographic art from varied perspectives, hanging works by contemporary artists alongside those by older generations of photographers, including James Van Der Zee and Gordon Parks. But what also strikes me about this exhibition, is that it includes artists of various ethnicities.  So I had to ask – how did she craft that into the gallery’s theme for Black History Month?

Guest Curator Lisa Henry speaks frankly about the curatorial process:

A black history month show in the age of Obama, is no longer ‘just’ about being black. Karen at the gallery brought me the idea of connections, and i thought, lets do more with that idea. One thing I really struggled with in this show, is that I didn’t want it to be a “Black History Month Photo Show”, even though it opens in February. Nor did I want it to be just a “We Are The World/Rainbow Coalition Photo Show.”

The idea of broadening the conversation about race, is

© Gerald Cyrus
© Gerald Cyrus

very similar to the work  published in the last issue of Nueva Luz, with Hank Willis Thomas’ work on the cover (Guest Edited by Darius Himes). We are a part of a larger community, and I like exploring and striving for inclusivity and dialogue; a serious acknowledgment of history as well as a celebration of new ideas.

I remember reading an interview by Suzan-Lori Parks (author of Topdog /Underdog, Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur grant winner) – what she said, always stuck with me:

” I was taking to Essence magazine about it being a black play”, she explains. “Someone said it’s not a black play. And I said yes it is. Let us expand the definition. If we can use the definition to box somebody in and limit somebody- if the definition is in use- then lets keep using the definition and realize what it really is. Maybe a black play [or in my case, a black photo show] is a play that includes everybody. You know what I mean? Maybe that’s what a black play is.

© Keliy Anderson-Staley
© Keliy Anderson-Staley

A black play is a play that is inclusive. A black play is a play that allows for all kinds of manifestations and freedom for all kinds of different people. Maybe that’s what a black play is. I don’t know. The traditional definition is a black play has black actors written by a black writer that deals with things of race and slavery. That can’t  [always] be true. 365Days/365Pays doesn’t deal with that.”

This statement made such an impression on me. In many ways this is how I see myself as a black photography curator, not a “BLACK” photography curator. So as you can see, I am really still dealing with these issues as a curator who loves photography  – and not just black photography but PHOTOGRAPHY. I also want a more diverse group of people to get a shot at big solo shows and all that. I just don’t want all my shows to only be about race – no matter who is behind the camera…

© Hiroshi Watanabe
© Hiroshi Watanabe

As we welcome newly inaugurated President Barack Obama and his hopeful vision for our country, Connections shares that vision, striving for inclusivity and dialogue, a serious acknowledgment of history, as well as a celebration of new ideas. This is a new day. The photo-based works in this exhibition embrace a range of identities and ideas, from both in front of and behind the camera’s lens.

© Felicia Megginson
© Felicia Megginson

Connections opens on Saturday, February 7th with a Reception from 6-8pm. Other artists in the show include: Carrie Mae Weems, Emilio Bañuelos, Qiana Mestrich, Carla Williams & Deirdre Visser, Lorna Simpson, and many others. Both the  NYC and San Francisco exhibitions run through March 28.

Jenkins Johnson Gallery

521 West 26th Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY

464 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA

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