These stories include a range of artistic pursuits, from Black art exhibitions launched during the pandemic touching moments like Denzel Washington paying for Chadwick Boseman’s summer acting program when he was a student at Howard University.
Ebony Magazine began in 1945 to showcase middle-class black lifestyles to combat the typically negative depictions of black people in the media. Ebony used Life magazine as a model to depict the goings on and glamours of black middle-class life. Its founder, John H. Johnson, increased the magazine's popularity by warming it up to corporate advertisers arguing that black consumers would patronize brands representing black people. The magazine also contained articles on African American history, in addition to pieces on lifestyle, which helped bring black history and its figures into the light within overall American history.
Though Zora Neale Hurston was a major name during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, she fell out of the spotlight and was largely unknown after her death. That is until Alice Walker set about to rediscover Hurston’s writings and her grave. Hurston had been buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, FL but thanks to Alice Walker she is now remembered with a headstone declaring her “A Genius of the South.” Without Walker’s efforts, Hurston’s grave may never have been memorialized and her body of work would most likely remain in obscurity.
Graduate Students at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta created Universal Black Pages - a directory to keep abreast of African American websites. The growing directory which includes thousands of websites now, helps users find a variety of information focussed on African American interests, ranging from Black-owned businesses to hip-hop. Other websites such as www.soulsearch.com - "the search engine for the world's people of color" also help users navigate amongst black-oriented websites on the internet.
In 1977 one of the most iconic gatherings of black intelligence happened in Alice Walker’s home in Jackson, Mississippi. The attendees were all black women authors: Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, Lori Shape, Audrey Edwards, and many more. The women met together to form a writing group, and many of them were in the process of publishing works or were working on future releases.
“It’s Okay to Cry” by Yinka Bernie is an ode to accepting and expressing your emotions. The melancholy tone of the song and its subject matter is undercut by the repetition of the phrase, “It’s okay to cry”. This simple reminder brings some light into a dark moment, encouraging us to let our emotions happen. The song ends with a simple but powerful gesture, “breath in, breath out”.
South African photographer Tsoku Maela uses his photography as a vessel to discuss what It is like to live with mental illness as well as to display his own experiences. His Abstract Peaces series evokes surreal imagery to depict isolation and dissociation but also the opportunity for growth. Maela believes that within the struggle of living with mental illness, there lies the possibility to rediscover oneself and that this idea (as well as what it is like to live with mental illness) needs to be communicated to black people to create a better understanding.
Harry Belafonte’s interest in the performing arts began with his experiences at the American Negro Theatre (ANT) in Harlem. The theatre was the home of multiple prominent black actors during the 1940s and Belafonte was able to enact some roles alongside the experienced actors. He and Sidney Poitier honed their understanding of the performance arts despite their financial difficulties by splitting ticket stubs with each other to see plays at the ANT, stating “One of us would go in for the first half, come out at intermission and pass the stub, along with a plot summary, to the other. We saw some theater that way, and agreed that seeing half of each taught us more than not seeing a play at all.”
Meals as Collective Memory is an oral history project developed in Central Brooklyn to document the socio-culinary history behind Black-owned restaurants as well as the impact of foodways on memory. The chefs and restauranters discuss their memories of family cooking and mealtimes, as well as the conception of their restaurants and recipes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the project shifted to document Black food culture facing pandemic-related challenges but also the opportunities it brought.
Medical illustrator Hillary Wilson has been part of the push to represent more diversity in medical illustration. The majority of medical illustrations use white males as a model and the majority of medical illustrators are white. The lack of diversity in medical illustration not only hinders black people’s ability to feel comfortable in a healthcare setting but also hinders the ability of patients and doctors to properly diagnose some conditions which would look different on darker skin. Illustrators like Wilson Wilson hope to normalize medical illustrations of POC and disseminate them among the larger population to increase representation in the medical field.
Black Food is a compilation of the experience of the African Diaspora using food as a vehicle. Bryant Terry collects essays, recipes, and artwork from black people around the world. Black Food explores the intersection of food, community, and experience to create a spiritual feast (and a literal one)!