WASHINGTON, DC — In the heart of what was once known as Chocolate City — a city that was the home of Marvin Gaye, go-go, and the March on Washington, but also where slaves helped build some of the most prominent buildings in America — a new museum has found its place on National Mall. Visiting the National African American Museum of History and Culture during its opening weekend, what I most noticed was the play of light and darkness. This contrast is present in the very structure of the building — with its exterior of both a bronze-hued metal lattice and glass — and recurs throughout the exhibits inside.
Beginning in the underground historical galleries, dark walls surround visitors, while the narrative guides you through the pain, suffering, and redemption of African American history. It’s best to travel upward through the museum. Moving to the upper level galleries, visitors are greeted by both the light coming through the building and a popping celebration of culture, community, and music — accented by florescent bursts of color from the likes of the P-Funk Mothership. The interplay of light and dark is what I tried to capture on my first journey through the museum alongside the thousands of other visitors opening weekend.