Dope. Magical. Brilliant. These are just a few of the numerous words Leilani Lewis used to describe “Everyday Black,” the newest exhibition at Northwest African-American Museum (NAAM). Intimate portraits captured by Seattle photographers Jessica Rycheal and Zorn B. Taylor merge into the artistic representation of the phrase, “Black is beautiful.” With contemplative to beaming faces, “Everyday Black” reveres the spectrum of Blackness, which includes those who identify as mixed race.
“If we can honor all of our experiences and all of the identities that come with it then we can do our work and hopefully celebrate ourselves,” Lewis said. “We just can’t wait for other people to decide that they want to show our work all the time.”
Lewis serves on NAAM’s board of directors, supported the creation of the show and is one if its biggest fans.
Rycheal captured her subjects outside in neighborhoods. In “Queen Shit” Kamari Bright dons a terracotta cropped top, a baseball hat with “MELANIN” across the front, strappy heels and a faux fur coat is draped across her shoulders. “Saffroniaa” centers a Black woman dressed in a skirt and Converse sneakers clasping her hands together, mid laugh while crouched on a street. Her joy radiates from the print.
Rycheal chose to display many of the photographs without frames. It was a way to eliminate a barrier between the subject and onlookers and to foster interaction. She said the decision helped enhance the experience of her work, with many sharing that they felt like they knew the people she photographed. Rycheal focuses on capturing the essence of who they are.
“A lot of my work is in capturing Blackness and melanin and all the different ways people show up as Black."
“A lot of my work is in capturing Blackness and melanin and all the different ways people show up as Black,” Rycheal said. “How that looks from a personality and character standpoint, which is a more honest representation than whatever stereotypical images we see of ourselves in the world.”
Taylor’s work is studio-based and the result is a collaboration between the subject and his vision. They are a snapshot of their personalities. “Ms. Kidhe” shows the profile of NAAM staffer Marie T. Kidhe’s warm disposition. Her smile is genuine and welcoming. In “Raven” Tracy Rector’s arms are outstretched and she’s ready to soar. Rector identifies as tricultural: Native, African and European decent.
“It was wonderful. You know she was fully inhabiting that space as who she felt like she was at the time,” Taylor said. “I think that’s one of the things that I like about all of the work is that people did show up. They were willing to be fully present for my camera.”
The through line of Taylor’s work showcases people in the community and what makes them interesting. He’s made a point to document Brown people in Seattle who are working artists.
It’s the representation of community that attracted Curator C. Davida Ingram to Rycheal’s and Taylor’s work. “Everyday Black” celebrates Black womanhood, queer Black women and indigeneity. While not meant to represent all aspects of the Black experience, Ingram considers the show a “small and exquisite sample.” Given the tumultuous political and cultural climate, Ingram characterizes “Everyday Black” as a relief, a welcome reprieve from sadness and anger.
“It is so nice to have a moment where we are celebrating our self-determination, who we are without the bullshit of White supremacy."
“It is so nice to have a moment where we are celebrating our self-determination, who we are without the bullshit of White supremacy,” Ingram said. “Because White supremacy may be an environment that we exist in but it is not who we are. Seeing Black people as people.”
The buzz leading up to the opening of the show spread quickly throughout the Seattle arts community and beyond. It was an intentional effort by Ingram to garner interest in the show. As excitement built and interest peaked, the night of the unveiling attracted a record number of people to NAAM. Ingram, Lewis, Rycheal and Taylor all said the evening was electric. It was a safe space for people of color to just be.
“I think the psychic weight of Whiteness in Seattle is enormous,” Ingram said. “Seeing how Black artists play a role in helping us see ourselves and enjoy and appreciate ourselves is a really important thing. I mean that for everybody. I want Black people to see ourselves with love but I also want other people to know how to do that too.”
“It seemed like it was such a necessary and needed and thought-out opportunity for Black people to just show up and be around a bunch of other Black people,” Rycheal said. “Not have to worry about what’s happening to us in the news or what’s happening to affect us in the news or worrying about being stereotyped or profiled or anything.”
Along with celebrating rising above in spite of racism, Taylor wants to move the conversation to the next level. He no longer identifies as Black and has chosen to call himself human to fully occupy the space. Taylor has no desire to be “othered.” Despite the liberal badge of honor many Seattleites wear, he considers Seattle to be one of the most racist places he’s lived.
“My foremothers and my forefathers chose to be Black and they became Black to coalesce around a political identity that would allow them to enhance their agenda, but it wasn’t just to be Black,” Taylor said. “It was to be fully vested into society as a human being.”
The show not only highlights the talents of the artists behind the camera; there’s also a number of artists who posed. That list includes David Rue, Elisheba Johnson, Bright and Rector. Culinary artists Kristi Brown-Wokoma and Tarik Abdullah are also in the show. Their participation adds another notable layer to the show. They are all creating compelling work.
“Everyday Black” is a contemporary show with an overarching theme of resilience and proves that one not need a Hollywood glam squad and designer clothes to be regal, elegant and striking. Simply put, the show is relatable and the subjects are all of us. You don’t need to have an abundance of melanin to connect. As Taylor put it, “If you’re in love with the human spirit you should go.”
WHAT: “Everyday Black”
WHEN: Runs until Sept. 30
WHERE: Northwest African-American Museum (NAAM), 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge, Facebook
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