‘Wounding the Black Male’ debunks stereotypes

The College’s latest art exhibit, ‘Wounding the Black Male: Photographs from the Light Work Collection,’ will be on display in the College Art Gallery until April 20. (Delisa O’Brien / Staff Photographer)

Despite today’s emphasis on political correctness, certain groups still find themselves the victim of relentless stereotyping. English professor Cassandra Jackson and College Art Gallery Director Sarah Cunningham attempt to draw attention to one group in particular in the College’s newest art exhibit “Wounding the Black Male: Photographs from the Light Work Collection.”

The exhibit, which will be on display in the Art and Interactive Multimedia Building’s College Art Gallery until April 20, aims to “confront stereotypes about black male appearance, sexuality, violence, and family, and highlight the ways that visual culture has contributed to the marginalization and exclusion of the black community,” according to the gallery’s website.

Take, for example, Ellen M. Blalock’s photos “Skylar” and “Jermane” from her series “The Father Project.” The photos show two young black men in stereotypical “street” clothes: baggy jeans, exposed boxers, the works. In their arms, however, are their young children, being embraced with more tenderness than might be believed possible by such seemingly thug-like characters. The message is obvious; viewers are supposed to confront their own preconceived notions of black males, recognizing the unfairness of the stereotypes against them that have been deeply ingrained into the mind of society.

This recognition is almost inevitable; one can’t look at the love between these men and their children and not doubt the media’s portrayal of the violent black man.

In contrast to these images of fatherly affection, a few frames down hangs Lonnie Graham’s “Hoodie Boy, Gang Member, Pittsburgh P.A.” The look in the subject’s eyes is heartbreaking; there is an emptiness in them that suggests a feeling of utter hopelessness in the boy.

The gallery doesn’t limit itself to portrayals of modern black men, however. Marilyn Nance’s “The White Eagles, Black Indians of New Orleans” shows two black Native Americans in feathered headdresses, a far cry from the sweatshirt-clad boy from the previous picture. Despite these obvious differences, however, both subjects have the same look of bleakness and despair, bridging their gap of time and cultural differences.

Not all of the photographs are gloomy, however. Renee Cox’s photograph, titled “David = The African Origin of Civilization,” shows a black man mimicking the famous statue of David in all of his glory — with an Afro thrown in for good measure. This was one of three photos shot by Cox, the other two depicting a black Atlas (“Atlas”) and a black Mary and Jesus (“Pieta”).

Continuing this religious theme, Max Kandhola’s “The Last Seven Words of Christ” series, featuring pictures five to seven out of a set of seven, shows a close-up of a black man wearing a crown of thorns. This Christ figure suffers through three photos: “I Thirst,” “Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” and “Into Thy Hands I Commend My Spirit.” With no further explanation given, the reason for the man’s suffering is unknown, and it is ambiguous if he is actually representative of the Christ or is simply Kandhola’s version of a modern day equivalent.

A haunting final image of the gallery is a photograph along the left wall titled “Un hijo de Yemayá (A Child of Yemayá), Hopkins, Belize” from Antony Gleaton’s “Africa’s Legacy in Central America” series.

The shot shows a young black boy partly submerged in water, staring straight into the camera. Something about the boy’s eyes brings to mind the look of the gang member in Graham’s photo; unlike the latter, this boy still seems to have some fight left in him, and the determination in his eyes is sure to remain with visitors long after they’ve left the gallery.