This past Sunday the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial: Greatest Love of All opened at chashama at XOCO 325 to a packed crowd of NYC art lovers and creatives of all kinds. This year, I had the honor of being invited to submit work and was accepted into the second edition of this unique group show which features only women artists, a move I can only attribute as a response to the gender inequality that is so rampant in more “established” art exhibitions.
No surprise this underdog biennial had already gotten TV and press coverage before it opened, so the line to get in was a block long. As I made my way into the exhibition space with my family, our eyes/hearts/minds became full of the glorious spectacle that is this all-female group show. The exhibition space itself is small but the floor-to-ceiling, salon-style hanging is democratic and accommodates humans of all sizes. My son and other children I saw there were thrilled by the work at their eye level.
Part of the artist submission process included having to write about a pioneering female that inspired your work. This requirement was easy for me given my current obsession with the black, PreRaphaelite model Fanny Eaton who I wrote about for the show. So not only is the show a visual celebration, but it also honors female legends big and small like Ms. Houston and 125 other women who have marked the world.
For me the biennial was a great way to discover new artists and below I highlighted the photographs, collages and lens-based images that were some of my favorites. All are available for purchase on the 2017 Whitney Houston Biennial website. The WHB is on view until March 29th so be sure check the website for other readings, panels, performances and other events.
Featured (Top) Image: Suzanne Wright – “8 Shuttles”
Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures.
Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog:
Conversation with Marco Scozzaro on Digital Deli
Five Visual Motifs in the Photographs of Ren Hang
Photography and the Black Panther Party
The Black Female Self in Landscape
In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes
Forthcoming Photobooks by African American and Black African Photographers
New Image Library Specializes in Race and Cultural Diversity
Sadie Barnette’s Do Not Destroy solo show opened last week at Baxter St to a roaring reception. It’s not every day that you get to see a gallery show that features the classified FBI documents of an ex-Black Panther Party member. That Panther is Rodney Barnette, who founded the Compton, California, chapter of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense in 1968. The centerpiece of Barnette’s show is undoubtedly the wall filled with copies of her father’s surveillance files, embellished in the artist’s signature “graffiti” and faux jewel treatment.
Barnette’s show features minimal photography. Opposite the wall of FBI files stands two seemingly life-sized portraits of a young Rodney Barnette that his daughter/the artist has rephotographed. On the left we see him smiling in his US military uniform. In opposition, to the right is Barnette captured in harsh flash donning a black beret, t-shirt and leather jacket; his dark shadow looms large behind him as he looks off camera. This photograph of Rodney is untitled, and yet we need no explanation that this is a changed man, reincarnated as a BPP member.
In the juxtaposition of these two portraits, the viewer contends with the use of photography as a witness to Rodney’s shifting identities and ultimately the medium’s political power. Without going into the internal politics and covert government action that caused the party to disband, I’d like to briefly discuss what art critic John Berger considered to be “the crucial role of photography in ideological struggle” and the Black Panther Party’s strategic use of photography (and posing) in crafting their own brand of Black anti-fascism.
Many B&W photographs exist of the high profile BPP leaders. Both male and female members are pictured in socio-political context: raising fists, encouraging crowds, marching in demonstrations, standing in formation, working at their headquarters, being interviewed by and addressing the press, conversing critically with each other, meeting other political leaders, performing community service or even just relaxing at home.
Then we see the isolated figure: numerous solo portraits of Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver. This image of the lone revolutionary becomes ubiquitous just a few years earlier with Cuba’s Che Guevara and the Black Panthers utilize their portraits on paraphernalia like flyers, buttons, posters, t-shirts, publications. Sometimes these solo portraits were used to vilify the Panthers, like in the wanted poster below of Angela Davis. (Side note: you can view this poster in person at the ICP Collections at Mana Contemporary in NJ. It’s quite an amazing experience!)
The Black Panther Party’s visual message also conveyed their unique style and sex appeal, both aspects of the party’s identity that no doubt helped with recruitment efforts. Jet black leather jackets, Ray Bans, berets, perfectly coiffed afros merged effortlessly with the sleek profiles of .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols to create an impressionable representation of Black power.
Both Kathleen Cleaver (BPP communications secretary and wife of Eldridge) and co-founder Huey Newton became the party’s default sex symbols. Newton was pictured exhibiting his bare-chested, muscle-toned physique both at home and when he was freed from prison in 1970. Bingham’s images of Cleaver portray her as a thing of beauty though she may not have intended this to be her role. Yet Cleaver did play with fashion by often sporting a large afro, hoop earrings and the radical above-the-knee length skirt style thus creating a new revolutionary aesthetic in clothing for (Black) American women. The Black Panther style was even appropriated in advertising as seen in this vintage ad for Newport cigarettes.
Not only did the Black Panther Party provide political power for many Black Americans, but they also affirmed the notion of family. This familial bond was forged mainly through offering life-sustaining services like free breakfast programs and community schools operated in cities like Oakland, CA. So not only do we see Panthers providing children with nutrition and education, but we also see children in attendance at rallies and marches. Of course, the most famous BPP child was Tupac Shakur, son of party member Afeni Shakur.
Knowing that the photographic image is only as empathetic as the photographer behind the lens, the BPP leaders were strategic in appointing Stephen Shames as the party’s official photographer. In another move to control their image, Muhammad Ali’s personal photographer Howard Bingham was contracted for six months to shoot a 1968 cover story for LIFE magazine upon the insistence of party leader Eldridge Cleaver.
Despite the negative reports and judgements about who they were, the Black Panther Party members were in full control of their own image as surely they knew their supporters and haters around the world were watching. The BPP’s strong message spread overseas in areas where other Black communities were struggling for their own civil rights, inspiring regional groups like the British Black Panthers – see the work of Neil Kenlock. In this time post-US election where many are preparing for struggle once again, we are fortunate to be able to reflect on these images.
For additional viewing, I’ve created a Black Panther Party Photography board on Pinterest. Also, the Smithsonian Institute has an excellent BPP archive of black & white, documentary photographs from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Sadie Barnette’s Do Not Destroy, curated by Alexandra Giniger, is on view at Baxter St now through February 18, 2017.
Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: The Black Female Self in Landscape, Forthcoming Photbooks by African American and Black African Photographers and In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes.
Big event tonight for the Camera Club. I haven’t been to the annual Auction before so I’m looking forward to seeing all the action. Many many great photographs (including the one below) will be available. Check out the press release and I hope to see you there.
Amy Stein, Cage, digital c-print, 20 x 16”, 2005
Join Us Tonight, Monday, November 7, 2011, 6 – 8pm
Featuring work by emerging and established photographers, including :
Mariette Pathy Allen / Rachel Barrett / Jacqueline Bates / Matthew Baum / Michael Berkowitz / Per Billgren / Anita Blank / Timothy Briner / Jesse Burke / Eric William Carroll / Sean Carroll / James Casebere / Lindsey Castillo / Jesse Chan / Vincent Cianni / Annabel Clark / Margarida Correia / Megan Cump / Pradeep Dalal / Bobby Davidson / Allison Davies / Isaac Diggs / Maureen Drennan / Emile Hyperion Dubuisson / Mark Fernandes / Larry Fink / Lauren Fleishman / Martine Fougeron / Jona Frank / Fryd Frydendahl / Theresa Ganz / Anders Goldfarb / Curtis Hamilton / Jason Hanasik / Daniel Handal / Kara Hayden / Jeanne Hilary / Francine Hofstee / Henry Horenstein / Michi Jigarjian / Erica Leone / Sze Tsung Leong / David Levinthal / Sam Levinthal / Wayne Liu / Feng Lu / Ryan MacFarland / Jerome Mallmann / Chris McCaw / Jo Meer / Dana Miller / Azikiwe Mohammed / Paolo Morales / Keren Moscovitch / Laurel Nakadate / Katherine Newbegin / Lori Nix / Heather O’Brien / Brayden Olson / Alice O’Malley / Cara Phillips / Libby Pratt / Richard Renaldi / Mauro Restiffe / Saul Robbins / Caren Rosenblatt / Michael Schmelling / Tina Schula / Manjari Sharma / Aline Smithson / John Stanley / Chad States / Amy Stein / Joni Sternbach / Motohiro Takeda / Maureen Testa / Sally Tosti / William Wegman / Randy West / Grant Willing / Jessica Yatrofsky / Rona Yefman / Pinar Yolaçan / Arin Yoon
Mariette Pathy Allen, Paul Amador, Brian Paul Clamp, Daniel Cooney, Michael Foley, Martine Fougeron, Susan Fulwiler, Françoise Girard, Tom Gitterman, Peter Hay Halpert, Henry Horenstein, David Knott, Michael Mazzeo, Lizanne Merrill, L. Parker Stephenson, Spencer Throckmorton, Sasha Wolf, and Alice Sachs Zimet.
All proceeds go to The Camera Club of New York (CCNY), a non-profit 501(c)3 arts organization that has been nurturing talented photographers since 1884.
Catering provided by Moustache.
To see the donated works, please go to CCNY’s online auction preview.
CCNY wishes to thank 25CPW Gallery for their generosity in hosting this year’s auction.
For further inquires, contact CCNY at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 212-260-9927
Please visit us at www.cameraclubny.org
Simen Johan, Untitled #159, From the series Until the Kingdom Comes, C-Print, 2010. Opening at Yossi Milo Gallery on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Tuesday, November 1
Wednesday, November 2
Thursday, November 3
Benefit: “Question Bridge: Black Males” a project by Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair
Jack Shainman Gallery
513 W 20 street, RSVP to email@example.com, 6-8pm
Friday, November 4
Photography: “Incomparable Women of Style: Selections from the Rose Hartman Photography Archives, 1977 – 2011”
FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology
West 27 street at 7th avenue, Gladys Marcus Library
Saturday, November 5
133 Eldridge street, b/w broome & delancey, floor 5, 6-8pm
Sunday, November 6
Thursday, October 20
Alessandro Zuek Simonetti, Andrea Sonnenberg, Dave Potes, Lele Saveri, Lisa Weiss, Patrick Griffin, Yuri Shibuya
“The Inferno” curated by Hamburger Eyes + Ed. Varie
208 East 7th street, 7-10pm
Saturday, October 22
Sunday, October 23