Looking at African-American Life “Fifty Years After”
Photo: Mickalene Thomas Remember Me, 2006 c-print 49 1/2 x 59 x 1 3/4 inches (framed) Edition 4 of 5, with 2 APs.
The March on Washington took place on August 28, 1963, marking the twelfth anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. Till was just 14 years old when he was lynched in Mississippi, an event so heinous that it became a pivotal catalyst for the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1963, less than five years before he would be assassinated the United States government, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the top of Lincoln Memorial and delivered a speech, a speech so powerful that you can hear it in your mind’s ear as you read his words: “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
But where have we come in decades since this speech? We live in an era where extrajudicial executions are a daily operation at the hands of police departments around the country. Where these brutal murders are brazenly broadcast on television with complete disregard—or perhaps intention—to involve a permanent state of PTSD in our countrymen and women. Where protests are called unpatriotic in as much as some in this country pledge allegiance to a flag that represents the politics of the Confederacy.
But all is not for naught for progress exists and can be found in the arts and minds of some of our greatest Americans. In honor of these esteemed men and women, James Barron Art, Kent, CT, presents Fifty Years After: Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, LaToya Ruby Frazier on view now through October 16, 2016.
Fifty Years After traces the path that Gordon Parks (b. 1912) blazed throughout his career. Working at a time when “there can only be one,” Parks established himself as the preeminent photographer of African American life, politics, culture, and art. But he wasn’t just this—no artist ever could ever be reduced to such basic thinking. Parks took his sensibilities to Vogue and LIFE and he made people look with his intuitive gift for complexity, depth, and nuance, and in doing so he opened the door for a new generation of African American photographers to rise in his wake.
Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953) is one of the preeminent photographers working today. Her celebrated Kitchen Table Series brings it home, centering African American life in the kitchen, at the seat of the soul. Mickaelene Thomas (b. 1971) is a sensualist, enveloping us in the soft, intricate intimacy of black women’s experiences as friends and family come together to share in the beauty and power of their very existence. LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1982) is a social documentarian, bringing us inside the community and allowing us to explore the ways in which race and class overlap in “The Notion of Family,” a twelve-year story of Braddock, PA, the deteriorating steel community in which she grew up.
Taken as a whole Fifty Years After reminds us how far we have come since that days when Gordon Parks navigated a nation drowning in Jim Crow laws. Yet at the same time it is understood half a century is hardly any time at all.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.