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Joshua Bottoms is a minor contributor to Black@Intersection and was selected to write this article for his inside look at the process of the exhibition's conception.
On display at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Black@Intersection: Black Voices in Contemporary Art is a multimedia spectacle! Curated by Duane Cyrus, a professor of dance at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, the exhibition is a variegated cross section of Blackness depicted through painting, sculpture, videography, text, dance, and music. Centered around the themes "Lens," "Vision," and "Corporeal," the exhibition examines perspectives of Blackness in the present, illustrates images of Blackness in the future, and explores Blackness as it is experienced in the body. Among the 25+ world-class contributors on the project, ten works are from local North Carolinians.
The themes of "Lens," "Vision," and "Corporeal" were introduced early in the fall semester to my ethnomusicology class at UNCG. In collaboration with Professor of Ethnomusicology Dr. David Aarons, Cyrus was looking for a way to include UNCG students in his upcoming art showing. After sharing his thoughts and previewing several works from the exhibition with us, our job was to create a curated playlist of Black music and speech to represent and accompany each of the three themes. In the words of Dr. Aarons, "Students worked in discussion with curator Duane Cyrus to explore the images and themes in Black@Intersection. The selected recordings on the playlists represent their perspectives on that discussion as well as their engagement with course materials that allowed them to interrogate the diversity and complexities of Black cultural expressions within a transnational and transcontinental framework."
Even if our class contribution was only a minor component of the entire showing, I was thrilled to see how our work would be integrated into the exhibit. More importantly, I was excited to see the artistic culmination of Professor Cyrus' work on such a critically relevant and valuable subject matter.
Black@Intersection did not miss a single mark. Complex, distinct, and nuanced, the showcase presented an anti-essentialist view of life within the African diaspora. The foyer of the gallery displays a description of the collection that states, "Black@Intersection recognizes the intersectional nature of Blackness, particularly through photography and figurative art. The curation of artists in Black@Intersection represents a spectrum of Black voices from various parts of the world." The nature of the exhibition stays true to its multifaced description. Even before entering, the scope of the art inside is apparent. Lining the walk to the gallery entrance, I was greeted by several immense murals, each depicting animated Black women clad in apparel signaling a fusion of Africanism, spirituality, and futurism.
The inside of the exhibition offered an equally rich representation. Performers dressed in all white circulated the crowd, reciting monologues and speeches and engaging with each other through dance. Vibrant inkjet prints similar to the murals seen on the way in, a painted collage of found fabrics portraying a mother braiding her daughter's hair, and a series of nudes declaring the vitality of Black bodies stuck out as celebratory pieces.
While the showcase was a predominantly victorious depiction, not all works were so optimistic. Several miniature coffins, colorfully and ornately decorated on the inside but jagged and pierced with nails on the outside, represented the lives lost to lynchings. A pair of surgically prodded Black lips pictured with the names of several lip kits by Kylie Jenner criticized the commercialization and exploitation of Black bodies. Most jarring was a sculpture in the center of the exhibition with no title. Towering over spectators, the sculpture is made of black, floral-print rag dolls strung up in a relaxed maypole formation by their braided yarn hair. To be frank, it was at times difficult to look at without assuming the most gruesome.
The abundance of engagement accompanied by the music reverberating in the hall creates an intensely immersive sensation. Alongside the art hung on the walls are three plaques explaining the purpose of the "Lens," "Vision, and "Corporeal" themes. Within each description, the text presented with the themes included a list of questions aimed at challenging the observer, asking them to turn inwards to their own understandings and beliefs. And at the bottom of each description was a QR code to the student playlists sounding in the space.
In between his engagements with fellow collaborators, colleagues, and attendees, I was able to steal Cyrus aside for a quick interview and, thankfully, he was incredibly gracious with his time. When asked what the process of creating this exhibition was like, Cyrus shared that although he pulled on connections with fellow artists, the project was an experience of "growing and learning" for him as well. Cyrus was also forthcoming on his position as the exhibition's curator, explaining that in a gallery as intimate as this one, his "curation is important because it puts a Black person in control." Without reducing the exhibition to a simple one-liner (which I think would be nearly impossible regardless), I asked Cyrus to speak about what he hoped the audience would take away from their experience. True to the description at the front of the gallery, Cyrus explained how he wanted to create something that instills in attendees that "Blackness is not a monolith, Blackness is not one thing." Spending time at Black@Intersection felt grounding, and it fortified the belief that a society in which Black lives matter is a rich one.
Black@Intersection continues on view at SECCA through Sunday, April 17, 2022. For more details on this exhibition, please view the sidebar.