“Our Stories, Our Voices.” Thus rings the slogan for Art of Blackness, an exhibition “created to allow for a meeting of the minds between African American artists and design professionals. The exhibit’s goal is to provide the featured artists with both an avenue of expression and an introduction to potential patrons and resources.”
For the past two weeks, the sixth annual exhibition was on display at Block 37 in downtown Chicago. Featuring notable artists like Brian Dovie Golden, Tawny Chatmon, Elise Swopes, Reginald Eldridge Jr., Sanford Greene, and Langston Allston, among countless others, the 2017 showcase proved a powerful and visceral experience for attendees.
In an interview with Urban Broadcast Media, Lashun Tines, founder of the Annual Showcase, noted that “African Americans were underrepresented in the ad and design world.” That’s why for the past six years, he has made a concerted effort to increase the visibility of Black artists.
The launch for this year’s showcase on the evening of Friday, Sept 22 drew about 1,000 people from the greater Chicago community, including folks of all ages and demographic backgrounds. The space doubled as shop in the weeks that followed, presenting the art to determined visitors and curious passersby alike.
ROYAL spent ample time in the space conversing with the artists, reflecting on their art and engaging in the powerful discussions their creativity prompted. In partnership with Art of Blackness, ROYAL hosted an intimate pop-up event in the space called “The Beautiful Project,” where we encouraged visitors to reflect on the message, “What makes your Blackness beautiful?”
This is a question as personal as it is collective — an experience of duality not foreign to those of Black complexion. We each have our own experience with Blackness and our own perceptions of it, but neither is distinguishable from our communal existence. We are tied, intimately, to the same bludgeoned history, and thereby, to the boundless art and creation such a history produces.
Ashley Barnaby, a second-time visitor, told Urban Broadcast Media that she felt the space reflected “Black beauty, Black love and Black struggle.” ROYAL feels the same way.
The Art of Blackness 2017 Showcase and our growing partnership and friendship with Lashun, its founder, has reminded us of a few valuable lessons about the intersection of Blackness and art. For starters, The Art of Blackness is a potent reminder that when Black people gather, any place can become a sanctuary. We not only celebrate culture, we are culture — a collective embodiment of physicality. Graceful, confident energy thrust into being, despite all odds and obstacles.
We’re also reminded that our culture is proud and defined, its social impact both global and undeniable. Blackness, and the art we create in this space and at this time, mimics the butterfly effect. We flap our wings in any one place — revealing our many colors, intersections and metamorphoses — and the world around us adjusts forever.
The Art of Blackness is a potent reminder that when Black people gather, any place can become a sanctuary. We not only celebrate culture, we are culture — a collective embodiment of physicality. Graceful, confident energy thrust into being, despite all odds and obstacles.
Blackness is art, and we believe this is part of what The Art of Blackness demonstrates. It’s not only the art on the walls that made this space special, it’s the art all around us, Blackness itself. Few things are more sacred or powerful than a Blackness that knows and celebrates itself.
In a world that otherizes melanin, self-love is a radical act. May the artists among us continue to activate our intrinsic power, resilience and beauty. And may programs like The Art of Blackness continue to amplify our work.