‘A Picture Gallery of the Soul’ Photographic Exhibit Showcases the Black American Experience

Ambitious co-curators Herman Milligan and Howard Oransky set out to create a comprehensive group exhibition that paints a portrait of the black American experience through photography. Their massive exhibition, “A Picture Gallery of the Soul,” which opened last week at Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesotaincludes works by 111 artists, including 15 from Minnesota.

“We’re kind of showing you 360 degrees, as best we can, of this black American experience,” said Milligan, who collects art and sits on numerous arts advisory boards in the Twin Cities. “A lot of these photographers are recent immigrants – some from Jamaica, Cuba, Africa, or people grew up in the United States and took on African names – but every one of them took this form of art to tell a story about this African American experience through their own eyes.”

The oldest original vintage photograph in the exhibit is a tintype from 1883, and the most recent work was printed just two years ago. Famous photographers like Dawoud Bey, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Rashid Johnson mingle with emerging artists from the Twin Cities like black queer photographer Nance M. Musinguzi, Jovan C. Speller, Mara Duvra, as well as artists of the black community at large. diaspora. The broad concept of the exhibition intends to make room for all the artists involved.

“The idea of ​​soul isn’t conceptual – it’s the fluid intersection between past, present and future. It’s evidence,” New York University’s Deborah Willis writes in the catalog of the exhibition. She notes that the exhibition brings together photographers and artists whose work can “construct new narratives on moments in history”, and that this exhibition is “ultimately about unpacking the idea of ​​what soul means for artists and curators.”

This openness allows the visitor to wander around, to let themselves be attracted by what strikes them. In the middle gallery, there is a relaxation area where people can leaf through the exhibition catalogue, listen to a selection of jazz music or simply take a break.

“Self-Portrait With My Hair Parted Like Frederick Douglass” by Rashid Johnson, 2003, is a tribute to the great intellectual. The title of the exhibition actually comes from Douglass’ “Lecture on Pictures” delivered in Boston in 1861, where he theorized about photography as a documentary tool for society, saying that “rightly seen, any the soul of man is a kind of picture gallery”. , a great panorama, in which all the great facts of the universe, tracing the things of time and the things of eternity, are painted.”

The show’s first physical work is an 1883 tintype of the pioneer Goodridge Brothers Studiowhere the three brothers worked on daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, stereoscopic images and panoramic photos. Kris Graves’ series, “A Bleak Reality,” jumps to the present, documenting sites where police killed innocent black men, including Philando Castile and Michael Brown.

Other images evoke the strange, such as Allison Janae Hamilton‘s “Sisters, Wakulla County, FL”, 2019, of two young girls in white dresses, somewhere in the swampy forest. Los Angeles-based portrait photographer Bobby HollandThe 1981 “Earth, Wind & Fire” photo is one of the examples of his more than 30 years photographing Hollywood artists. The pictures of John F. Glantonphotographer for the local African-American newspaper The Minneapolis Spokesman, show visitors images of the black press in the 1940s.

Pre-pandemic beginnings

Milligan, who served on the Community Advisory Board of the Walker Art Center and was involved with Milkweed Editions when co-creating Open Book, is a strong supporter of the arts in the Twin Cities. Oransky became the director of the Nash Gallery in 2011 and previously worked at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Walker, where he and Milligan met.

The idea for this exhibition began in 2014 after Oransky received a tip about the photographer Louis Drapier from a colleague at the University of Minnesota, and Milligan joined the project in 2016. It was supposed to open in 2020, but the pandemic delayed it.

Although Oransky and Milligan didn’t start out with preconceived thematic notions for the show, some did emerge.

Milligan mentioned the photographer Bill Gaskin‘ pair of diptych prints from his ‘The Cadillac Chronicles’ series, of black men taking care of their Cadillac cars.

“The show really reflects ‘normality’ or everyday life for [Black] American,” Milligan said.

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A gallery of images from the soul

Where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery, 405 21st Ave. S., Deputies.

When: Ends Dec. 10. Public reception Thu., 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Hours: 11am-5pm Tue-Fri, 11am-7pm Wed-Thu, 11am-3pm Sat

Information: 612-624-7530. For the full program schedule, visit https://cla.umn.edu/art/galleries-public-programs/katherine-e-nash-gallery

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