Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Power of Black

OK. Yeah. Art matters.

For most of you reading this, this is a pretty obvious statement of fact.

For me, living on Deer Isle, ME for most of the year, I've access to art (thanks to our excellent population of artists and the galleries that show them) but not museums.

Today I was reminded of how great museums are, when Judith and I spent two hours at the National Portrait Gallery here in Washington, D.C. Especially the Smithsonians --supported by our tax payer dollars, free admission. Government service to the lives of its citizens minds, hearts, and spirits at its finest.

We saw multiple great exhibits, including Annie Liebovitz's new "Pilgrimage," but the one that grabbed me by the throat was "The Black List" by African-American photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Above you can see his portrait of Angela Davis, one of the many large format, finely detailed photographs that made us stop, stare, and tear up with emotion.

The concept for "The Black List" is important. The term "black list" has of course been used pejoratively: if you're on the black list, you're being punished. You're in deep shit.

In this exhibit, Greenfield-Sanders turns this meaning on its head. The 50 photos here are a gallery of black stars: this is a list one WANTS to be on. The individuals captured in Greenfield-Sanders portraits are some of the most accomplished, educated, respected members of American society and represent a wide variety of influence, from Toni Morrison to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Vernon Jordan.

The impact of these portraits, putting the viewer up close and personal in very intimate ways with these powerful people, is breathtaking. A range of emotions washed through me as I stood before each one, from awe to pride to a kind of homesickness for living as I once did in a community rich with African-American people and others. A kind of heart sickness for this had been tugging on me since last night, with the news of singer Whitney Houston's death.

We all need opportunities to put ourselves in the company of others, and in the company of such powerful imagery. I found myself wishing I could transport our entire tiny high school of 125 students into the center of this gallery to see this show.

And you know I'm headed to more museums during my stay here this week!