Kehinde Wiley: Prince Charles Louis, Elector Palatine and his brother Prince Rupert of the Palatine (2012). The Ekard Collection.
Tell Me Your Story

Tell Me Your Story

Earlier this month, I visited Amersfoort’s kAdE museum because I didn’t want to miss out on the colourful vibes of their latest exhibition Tell Me Your Story. I love vibrant and colourful art and the exhibition’s approach was all the more reason for me to make sure I’d go and see it: Tell Me Your Story is an overview of 100 years African American storytelling through 140 various works of visual art.

I’m always interested in ‘other cultures’ (other than my own, I mean); I deliberately wrote my graduation thesis about subcultures and as a photographer I try to dive into secluded worlds.

My appreciation for African American culture came in the form of music (Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar), tv series (She’s Gotta Have It, Dear White People), movies (Get Out). Part of why I enjoy these contemporary artists so much is the way they share their views and opinions, not just on politics but also society – what it’s like as a black person in the US. But more traditional art forms, such as paintings and sculptures, stayed under my radar. I was (and still am) interested in SO many different things that it never came to my mind to research the African American art scene in particular. Which could be pointed out as problematic in itself, but that’s food for thought another blog post.

The tv series She’s Gotta Have It, by Spike Lee, might have been my first and maybe even only introduction to black ‘traditional’ art ever, but it definitely put Tell Me Your Story/TMYS in a (chronological) perspective. Walking through TMYS, I oftentimes felt as if I was walking through Nola Darling’s atelier. Or rather, wandering through her Pinterest boards and sketch journals. This point of reference turned out to be pretty helpful: it turned TMYS from a timeline of African American art into something far more lively. It created extra context.

Wadsworth Jarrell: Hommage to a Giant (1970). Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta. Photo: John Lusis.

 

Some works spoke to me in particular. Even without reading its description, looking at the piece from afar, I understood the meaning behind this vibrant piece by Wadsworth Jarrell [above]. Its pride and celebration shone through, soft yet fierce, like a soft morning sun shines through patterned lace curtains. Moments and feelings like that made me want to spend more time with virtually every artwork in the exhibition. The diptych about lynching – so heavy on my heart. The video installation of African American men sharing their experiences and responding to each other – a type of vulnerability and softness that hit me hard, because you don’t see it in regular media. The rich paintings from Kehinde Wiley [right]. And last but certainly not least, Bearden’s “Maquette for Quilting Time”  [click here], which to me echoes a regular summer day in my own Afro-centric neighbourhood.

Kehinde Wiley: Prince Charles Louis, Elector Palatine and his brother Prince Rupert of the Palatine (2012). The Ekard Collection.
Kehinde Wiley: Prince Charles Louis, Elector Palatine and his brother Prince Rupert of the Palatine (2012). The Ekard Collection.
Said final room, crappy cell phone picture by yours truly.
Said final room, crappy cell phone picture by yours truly.


The final room of the exhibition [left], the biggest space and definitely the biggest artworks too, is a celebration of African Americanness even more so than the rooms before that. Don’t get me wrong – the whole exhibition is a hands-on celebration of black creators. But whereas in the first rooms, a lot of artworks seem to have a sort of modesty about them, in the last room every artwork basically breathes a type of celebratory “fuck it, we’re great and you better get used to it” mentality. The music added to this room (Ice Cube, Janelle Monáe and Kendrick Lamar) is not only a textbook example of music and visual art fusing in pop culture, it also gives a great boost to that feeling of pride. Or to quote mister Lamar: “we gon’ be alright”.

Afterwards, I was so impressed with this exhibition. It’s been a while since I got this emotionally invested in an exhibition in general. It’s not just a collection of wonderfully creative artworks; Tell Me Your Story also turned out to be a much-needed perspective on the arts & cultural history in the United States. I also can’t think of a title that would’ve been a better fit. The exhibition is best described as an invite, coming from a white art space, for African American artists to share their stories and visual power. An invite these artists deserved as long as they have been around, but one they barely got – until now. Luckily, we can solve this, but we have to put the work in. Initiatives like this exhibition (and #ShareTheMicNow) are, in my opinion, a good start for us white people to actively take a step back and ask people of colour to step into our light. Tell Me Your Story does exactly that. The exhibition feels genuine from beginning to the end, it doesn’t revolve around making profit or using blackness as a show pony.

It’s here for change. And I’m here for it.

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