Here I would like to share some behind-the-scenes reflections on my curatorial project Beholding, Black World Making. Thinking with scholar Christina Sharpe’s ruminations on Black people’s ability to behold each other as possible ways beyond anti-Blackness, possible ways to freedom, I envision this initiative as a constellation of exhibitions, installations, and programming centered on our modes of defying ongoing precarity while loving one another. As I begin this process, I am considering various elements related to Sheila Pree Bright’s mural “Mothers March On,” 2019 — artist images and information, the organizing of the women depicted in the mural image, and scholarship rooted in Black liberation and anti-colonial pedagogies of fugitivity, abolition, collectivity, and co-resistance. 

Beholding, Black World Making will launch summer 2022.

— La Tanya S. Autry, Curator


Sheila Pree Bright, “Mothers March On,” 2019. [from left to right: Tynesha Tilson, Wanda Johnson, Felicia Thomas, Gwen Carr, Monteria Robinson, Dr. Roslyn Pope, Dalphine Robinson, Patricia Scott, Montye Benjamin, and Samaria Rice] (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

To me, the horizontal configuration of this portrait mirrors the women’s position on the frontlines countering ongoing anti-Black state violence.
The rose petals at their feet always gets me.

Sheila Pree Bright, “Mothers March On,” installation, 60’ x 30’ black and white, vinyl-print photo mural, 2019, Atlanta, Georgia. [from left to right: Tynesha Tilson, Wanda Johnson, Felicia Thomas, Gwen Carr, Monteria Robinson, Dr. Roslyn Pope, Dalphine Robinson, Patricia Scott, Montye Benjamin, and Samaria Rice] (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

Encountering large scale mural projects depicting loved ones of victims murdered by police is rare. Mothers March On punctures the erasure.
When Sheila brought these mothers together, she forged new visual pathways for fighting injustice.

 Sheila Pree Bright, Dr. Roslyn Pope, 1960 Who series, wheat-paste, 2013 (left); Sheila Pree Bright, Lonnie King, 1960 Who series, wheat-paste, 2013 (right), Atlanta, Georgia. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

Sheila Pree Bright installed these murals in Atlanta’s Auburn Street area, the old stomping grounds of members of the Atlanta Student Movement. The interventionist mode of wheat-paste, a street art medium, corresponds well with activist portraiture.

Sheila Pree Bright, #ReclaimMLKDay, Black Lives Matter disrupts MLK Day parades across the country, 2015. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

The signs, messages, low vantage point of the photographer, women on a mission, division of light and dark, emphasis on the ground.

Sheila Pree Bright, “Say Her Name” protest, artist Janelle Monae and Wondaland Records members perform “Hell You Talmbout” protest song, 2016. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

“Hell you talkin’ about”
“Say their name”
Similar to Civil Rights demonstrations of the 1960s, contemporary culture and freedom struggles converge. Art can be a way for us to fight the violence, speak with one another, plan our way through.

Sheila Pree Bright, National March on Ferguson, “We Can’t Stop Now,” protesting police violence and the murder of Mike Brown, 2015. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

Everytime I see this image spotlighting young Ferguson demonstrators, the beauty and sadness hits me.

Sheila Pree Bright, National March on Ferguson, “We Can’t Stop Now,” protesting police violence and the murder of Mike Brown, 2015. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

“We love our people and we will be here until justice is served.”
To me, this sign is a love note to us. It’s about beholding.

Sheila Pree Bright, Protest, “All Night, All Day, We’re Gonna Fight for Freddie Gray,” 2015. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

“Hands up!”
This image of Baltimore demonstrators protesting the murder of Freddie Gray conveys Sheila’s on-the-ground practice. The intimacy of being with the people is here.

Sheila Pree Bright, “Say Her Name” protest, 2016. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

The shallow depth of field brings the demonstrators’ messages forward. My attention lands on the young child in the foreground who is learning the condition as well as the work and intimacy of collective struggle.

Sheila Pree Bright, #ATLisReady and Black Lives Matter Atlanta Chapter protest shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, Atlanta, Georgia, 2016. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

The multitude and determination is striking.

Sheila Pree Bright, Justice League NYC’s “March 2 Justice” from New York to Washington, DC, in protest of police brutality, 2015. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

On the ground, a new order, demonstrators of various identities and conditions, refuse and disrupt the status quo violence of the white pillared institution.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Sheila Pree Bright. (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

“As a Photographic Artist, I am interested in the life of those individuals and communities that are often unseen in the world. My objective is to capture images that allow us to experience those who are unheard as they contemplate or voice their reaction to ideas and issues that are shaping their world. In this process, what I shoot creates contemporary stories about social, political and historical context not often seen in the visual communication of traditional media and fine art platforms. My work captures and presents aspects of our culture, and sometimes counterculture, that challenges the typical narratives of Western thought and power structures.”

A FEW WINDOWS INTO THE ACTIVISM

Coalition Calls for United Nations Inquiry into US Police Violence
Families of Victims of Police Brutality, Civil Society Groups Write to Ensure Effective Accountability and Follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1 (Human Rights Watch)

An Appeal for Human Rights, March 9, 1960 (Civil Right Movement Archive)

Image features Monteria Robinson [left] and Georgia State Representative Park Cannon [right]. Video still, press conference, Mothers March On — Sheila Pree Bright, Atlanta, GA, June 2, 2020. Video posted on Instagram via @sheilapreebright (photo courtesy Sheila Pree Bright)

QUOTES AS CURATORIAL VISION

Walking to the Mississippi River, Maafa Commemoration, honoring victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, organized by the Asé Cultural Arts Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, July 2018. (photo by La Tanya S. Autry)

The Maafa Commemoration honors those who suffered the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Every July processioners communally reflect on this history as they gather and promenade through slavery sites in Congo Square, the Tremé district, the French Quarter, and the Mississippi Riverfront. We hear our ancestors and we live the slavery archive through this ground we exist on and through our bodies. Asé.

Thinking with the scholarship of writers, artists, activists, and educators guides my curatorial praxis. Three favorites for Beholding, Black World Making:

How are we beholden to and beholders of each other in ways that change across time and place and space and yet remain? Beholden in the wake … 

— Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being

…contemporary commodification of black culture by whites in no way challenges white supremacy when it takes the form of making blackness the “spice that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.

— bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation

So with her eyes wide open my mother dreamed and dreamed some more, describing what life could be for us. […]The idea that we could possibly go somewhere that exists only in our imaginations—that is, “nowhere”—is the classic definition of utopia. Call me utopian, but I inherited my mother’s belief that the map to a new world is in the imagination, in what we see in our third eyes rather than in the desolation that surrounds us.

— Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

Love is lifeforce. 

— June Jordan, “The Creative Spirit: Children’s Literature,” in Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines

BOOKS AND ARTICLES FOR UNDERSTANDING

Site of 1947 lynching of Willie Earle, Greenville, South Carolina, July 2014. (photo by La Tanya S. Autry)

Years ago, I walked along a Greenville, South Carolina highway looking for a historical marker dedicated to the memory of the lynching of Willie Earle. I couldn’t find the sign because it had been ripped out of the ground by vandals. So I photographed the red dirt.
These sites are everywhere.

Bambara, Toni Cade, Those Bones Are Not My Child, New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.
     Poignant fictional account centering experiences of victim’s families of the 1979-1981 Atlanta child murders.

Hartman, Saidiya, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26, June 2008, 1-14. 
     Contends with the devastation of the slavery archive and desires to save those who were framed in history as objects, as property. Proposes ‘critical fabulation,’ a storytelling method for working beyond archival restraints.

hooks, bell,  “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life,” Art On My Mind, New York: New, 1995.
     Spotlights the importance of photography in Black family life and curatorial practices beyond conventional institutional conceptions.

Sharpe, Christina, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Durham, NC: Duke University, 2016. 
     Meditation on the ongoingness of slavery, the prevalence of anti-Blackness as a global phenomenon, and the necessity and possibilities of care.


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La Tanya S. Autry

Cultural organizer La Tanya S. Autry exercises her liberatory curatorial praxis through developing exhibitions and programming in institutional spaces and various non-institutional collaborative freedom...

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