A Cocurators’ Collaboration

Omar Victor Diop, “Trayvon Martin,2012,” 2017, from the series Liberty, Archival pigment print,
© Omar Victor Diop,
Courtesy MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris

The Harn Museum of Art Examines Black Life in Shadow to Substance Exhibition

The Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida (UF) collaborated with a UF College of the Arts Museum Studies assistant professor and a UF Department of English graduate student to organize and present its newest exhibition “Shadow to Substance,” on view from July 27, 2021 to February 27, 2022. The exhibition represents a chronological arc from the past to the present and into the future by displaying historical photographs of Black lives and new work by Black photographers. Sixteen photographs by 11 photographic artists were recently purchased for the Harn Museum’s permanent collection and are the heart of “Shadow to Substance.”

The exhibition is cocurated by Dr. Porchia Moore, UF College of the Arts department head and assistant professor of Museum Studies; Kimberly Williams, UF Department of English graduate student and Harn Criser intern; and Dr. Carol McCusker, Harn Curator of Photography.

“Shadow to Substance” gives visual substance to Black lives through 58 photographs. These include new acquisitions by Jonathan Bachman, Endia Beal, Sheila Pree Bright, Teju Cole, Omar Victor Diop, Earlie Hudnall, Ayana V. Jackson, Michael McCoy, Benji Reid, Brittanny Taylor, and Charlotte Watts. Each of the new acquisitions illustrates a renewed aim of Black portraiture to express 21st-century aspects of Black lives now and illustrates the Harn’s commitment to collect and exhibit works by underrepresented artists. Additional photographs from the Harn Museum’s collection and UF Smathers Library archives examine Jim Crow Florida, the great migration, and the civil rights movement with works by Michna Bales, Bruce Davidson, and Steve Schapiro, among others.

Sheila Pree Bright, “The Rebirth of Us,” 2020, Archival inkjet print, Courtesy of the artist, © Sheila Pree Bright.

“Through beauty, strength, and new narratives, the new acquisitions in the exhibition are thresholds for all of us to reimagine Black lives. And to reflect on and expand our understanding of the past and present, and a new vision of the future,” says McCusker. “I’m fortunate to have curated this exhibition with University of Florida colleagues, Dr. Porchia Moore and Kimberly Williams. They shaped artistic choices, formed provocative themes, and designed unique educational programs for ‘Shadow to Substance,’ a multidimensional view of history and of the Black Lives Matter movement that everyone needs right now.”

Charlotte Watts, “Resting for the Ancestors I,” in collaboration with Tricia Hersey’s Nap Ministry, 2018, Archival digital print, Courtesy of Whitespace Gallery

Contemporary works in “Shadow to Substance” include Black scholarship that addresses new mythos in the form of Afrofuturism, a combination of techno-contemporary imagery with African diaspora histories. Spiritual rest through stillness is espoused by author Kevin Quashie in his book, The Sovereignty of Quiet. This takes visual form in the collaborative images of Charlotte Watts and Tricia Hersey’s Nap Ministry, which promotes self-care. There is affinity between photographs of north Florida farming during Jim Crow and the reparations, land reclamation, activist Black farming movement of 2020. 

“The photographs in this exhibition are at once provocation and inquiry, joy and inspection, reverie and pain, expansion into infinite,” says Moore. “‘Shadow to Substance’ asks audiences to commit to the wisdom that there is abundance in Blackness.”

“Shadow to Substance” captures documentary moments such as Ieshia Evans’s 2016 protest where she offers her wrists for SWAT police to handcuff her during a peaceful demonstration, an image that went viral. The Moral Movement of Dr. William Barber encourages civil disobedience; he is represented in Endia Beal’s celebrated (winner of a 2020 Time magazine award) portrait of the Reverend. And Ericka Hart’s iconic portrait by Brittanny Taylor is a celebration of post-cancer strength and body positivity not as dictated by mass/social media but as is.

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The Harn Museum of Art is located in Gainesville, Florida. Admission is free. For more information visit harn.ufl.edu

Author: Arbus

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