A Renaissance Is Now: Documenting Everyday Black Life, Beyond the Struggle
The exhibition A Renaissance is Now opened on December 10, 2022 at Deep Roots Experience Gallery. The preview the night before the public opening gathered some of the artists, curators and special guests for a dinner and discussion about the collection of photographs and its intended impact.
Deep Roots Experience Gallery owner David Ramsey called the collection of photographs an opportunity for the nuances of Black experiences to be shared on a large scale. “We’re often celebrating the difficulties of our lives as if we don’t have very simple, pleasurable moments,” he said.
It’s a collection of work by nine different artists that explores the particularities, struggle, strength and celebrations of Black culture as it exists now.
“It certainly isn’t to suggest that we capture everything, but within our small corner of the world, we’d like to think that we caught some of Cleveland in a genuine way, whether it be people that we know or places that we frequent,” Ramsey said.
Among the nine artists chosen to exhibit work is Emanuel Wallace, a primary photographer for Cleveland Scene Magazine. Wallace submitted two pieces for the show. One, Right Over Left, depicts a quartet of young Black boys, arms crossed right over left as inspired by the Marvel blockbuster film Black Panther. (Wallace noted that one of the boys crossed his arms the opposite way.)
The second, The Next Generation, was taken at a Tamir Rice birthday celebration. Again, four Black youth are depicted. This time, they’re simply sitting on or standing by a guard rail next to a fence. “They’re just being kids, you know, enjoying life as a child, innocence and no bills, all of that,” Wallace said.
This is a concept warmly embraced by Ramsey, perfectly countering the constant narrative of struggle and adversity that surfaces in depictions of Black life.
Photographer Darnell McAdams–also known as, Raw Glass–captured a striking image of a young lad on a bicycle popping a wheelie with his head perilously close to the ground. The photo, Touchin’, is in black and white, with his trademark splashes of color infused strategically. A combination of luck and circumstance placed him in the right place at the right time to capture the moment in spectacular fashion.
His other entry shows two young fellows, standing next to their bicycles. They encountered him and requested to be photographed. “I told them I want you to stand, you know, shoulders back. Give me a nice pose. Elegant pose. Strong pose. And this is what I captured. And just thinking about [the theme] Renaissance Now, how these can kind of like tie into that. It’s like, you know, bringing the present to the future and reinventing it but also, you know, learning from it. Kind of like the Sankofa bird. You know, bring the past to the future.”
Mai Sturdivant provided three works for the showing, including Beauty Supply, a colorful image of two models in the aisle of hair products store.
Responding to Ramsey’s call, Sturdivant said that “the biggest thing I want to people to take away from my art is not only are we here, [but] we’re real people. I think a lot of times people get caught up in the aesthetics of things and they don’t remember or fail to realize that these things come to be. Like, somebody made this. Right? So I want to put the agency and the power back in the hands of the people that it started with by my art…In my opinion, Black culture is pop culture. Right? We set the tone for a lot of things. So, I want you to really see, like the fashion and the beauty influences in my photos, they come from these people. This is where it started.”
Photographer Vivica Satterwhite chipped in with two pieces of hers entitled Hangin’ Out and Afro Punk. The former is a black and white depiction of a muscle car burning rubber with a young man hanging from a window of the driver’s side of the vehicle as another captures the phenomenon with his cell phone. The latter is two young ladies sporting bright red and orange braids with matching blouses.
Speaking of Hangin’ Out she said, “It’s one of my favorites because it really expresses being free. And that’s what a renaissance means to me, is freedom. Creatively expressing yourself and just having fun.”
Kenyatta Crisp is an artist who works with children. His offering, entitled The Mob, is an image of a group of young Black boys organizing the start of a friendly game of football. For him, it was a matter of capturing a simple moment.
“I know ‘the mob’ typically has a negative connotation but this is just young boys having fun playing football and they were actually trying to figure out who was going to play on whose team,” Crisp said.
All of these images underscore the intent of the exhibition that places the viewer in direct proximity to the Black experience. According to Ramsey, “It really is designed to create a chance for people to see Blackness that doesn’t involve the tragedy, that doesn’t involve the difficulty. We spend a lot of time battling against, and sometimes we need an opportunity to celebrate us in the way we experience life. And, of course, we experience life differently than other cultures, so the exhibition is called The Renaissance is Now.”
Ramsey recruited two curators, Terrence Crawford and Sekoya Kendrick, to assist in bringing the exhibition to life. Other artists include Bee1ne, Asia Armour and Antonio Allen.
The exhibition is the first in a three-part series called Curated. The other two, Dope Boy Chic and Anything But a Canvas open in 2023 at Deep Roots Experience.
A Renaissance is Now
December 10 – January 16, 2023
Deep Roots Experience
7901 Central Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44104