A new Harn Museum of Art exhibit carries the weight of Black history to its viewers through momentary snapshots of serenity, struggle and triumph.
The new exhibition, “Shadow to Substance,” showcases Black living throughout history from the work of Black photographers. The museum acquired the 58 photographs from its permanent collection, the UF Smathers Library archives and purchased 16 from various photographers. The exhibit can be viewed from July 27 to Feb. 27.
Dr. Carol McCusker, the Harn Museum curator of photography, said they did not want to just highlight the dark history experienced by Black people; instead, they aimed to tell the resiliency and joy of Black living throughout the country.
“We want to see the depth of Black identity, that it's not fixed, it's not one thing and
it's had a dark past,” McCusker said. “There's never one type of Black experience just as there's never any one Asian experience and white experience and that's what we always have to be open to.”
McCuskter curated the exhibition with Dr. Porchia Moore, assistant professor and department head of museum studies at the UF College of the Arts, and Kimberly Williams, a UF graduate student and Harn Museum intern.
The photographs are organized chronologically from the Underground Railroad to present day.
Black and white prints of childhood, agriculture, manhood and struggle depict the humanity of ordinary Black lives in the past. While the contemporary works depict concerns of self-care peace. Futuristic reimaginings of history, in a style known as Afrofuturism, are shown in some of the contemporary.
Kerry Reardon, a 67-year-old art teacher, said the exhibit was a powerful “moving progression” of history. While looking at the Civil Rights Movement photographs, she said it brought back memories of when she lived in New York.
“I remember the ’60s, I remember New York, I remember these people and I remember what was going on, so for me it kind of brings up very strong emotions from that time,” she said. “It's reliving that history of that time.”
Edward Block, a 77-year-old retiree, said he was moved by the pictures.
“Whenever I see the history of the African American people in this country, I'm ashamed, and I am saddened,” he said.
The exhibit is unique to the U.S. because it shows the sustained history of oppression for people of color, and Block said it is important to highlight the works of underrepresented and minority artists.
“If we don't support them, then who is going to support them?” he said. “But I think they also bring a perspective that is fresh and unique to them, and so that adds to the richness of our experience.”
He said he was struck by the continued hope of African Americans despite the current conditions and circumstances preventing them from being who they are.
“They carry a certain grace and strength that defies and denies their actual situation.”
Contact Phong Huynh at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @phongphont.