Hey Speakerz! This week, I made my third trip to the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, NY to see Black Radical Women: We Wanted A Revolution 1965-85 Exhibit. Each time that I go, I see more, I feel more, I experience more. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up.
As a child, I was always exposed to museums. My mother, a New York City English Teacher prized learning above all. And so, every summer or school break, she would drag me and my brother out to museums. She always tried to find the exhibitions of black men and women so that we could see ourselves mirrored in the subjects and for that, I am eternally grateful. In so many years, I can count on my hand how many times I’ve seen truthful, honest and beautiful exhibitions dedicated to the fullness of black womanhood. So in April, when I heard of the Black Radical Women exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, I actually shouted with glee. A whole exhibition dedicated to black women like me!
The first time I went, I experienced sheer open-mouthed joy. I ran through each portion, barely taking it all in and just reveling in the fact that these women looked like me, created like me and left things for me to find. Most of them are still living and making work. I was astonished. The second trip, found me much more focused. I scrolled through one portion, completely dedicated to the ideal of immersive living and appreciating. I was almost existing in these pieces as much as with them. These women, seemingly ordinary, simply took marked moments of their lives, in their movements, their speech, their questions, their art, their letters, etc. The third trip found myself alongside a partner of mine and I cried. I think visibility, the closeness deep in the skin, the remembrance, the acknowledgement of my own black and radical woman existence realized caused me to cry.
One of the most beautiful things about the Brooklyn Museum is that it’s donation based. I saw this exhibit each time for one dollar. I scoff at capitalism! But really, I found so much more than just defeating capitalism in the “radical” of these repeated visits. I suppose that I’ll go again, a few more times, and whatever reaction comes out of it is what comes. But what is it that all these moments from this exhibit really expose for me? Just what is a Black Radical Woman as I profess myself to be?
In the exhibition is a variety of mediums. There is film, paper, photography, fashion, etc. To move through the exhibit in it’s fullness takes time and attention. What is it to really see each of these women? How do I hold onto Blondell Cummings as she moves effortlessly on screen? How do I take in the fullness in the eyes of Ming Smith as she photographs her own visual? Where do I hold the emotion that wells up when I see Julie Dash’s Daughter of the Dust in screenplay and all her plans for the week in her planner? Black women demand presence and not just a cursory glance.
To be black, radical and woman is to be alive in this world. I think that our very existence in a world that seeks to shatter and annihilate us is resistance. All of these women showed themselves, their lives, their truths. To be a black radical woman artist is to share your truth in all of it’s ugly and beauty. The question that I’m left with is where my work fits in? Where would I like it to fit in? I accept the mantle of black woman and radical and yet there’s the object and how I am carrying it.
Damali Speaks Xx