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Finding Space for Black Memory

COBRA showcases ‘The Black Domestic’

By Arts & Culture, SAIC

Black Domestic Installation View. Photo by Nitya Mehrotra.

Those entering “The Black Domestic” exhibition are immediately immersed in the sense of home. As a Black artist, a sense of belonging is imbued in the space and the memories feel alive. 

The show, which focuses on themes of “family, memory, and home” and is curated by Jordan Barrant and Saida Blair (MA in Visual & Critical Studies, 2024), will be open from Aug. 30 to Sept. 29 in the SITE Sharp Gallery. 

Visitors are invited into conversation and community within the context of works of art created by a variety of artists associated with the graduate student group Coalition of Black Restorative Artists. COBRA is a resource for Black graduate students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The gallery space welcomes viewers in with the striking visual of a lone green plush couch asking you to sit — or not — in the space. The shelf draws you in with a Bible and photos of personal significance in old frames. This center space is meant to simulate a living room and encourage a communal gathering. Everything is of a different time but harmonious. 

There is a natural extension of the floor space that is used. Chris D. Reeder’s (MA in VCS, 2023) “rest and reflection expand the revolution (series)” (2022) is realized through comfort and curiosity. Jacquard-woven pillows lure viewers in.

Under the imagined “sounds of Brooklyn,” this work explicitly calls for interaction — with books meant to be gently picked up and flipped through. Readers are intrigued by titles like “Black Futures” by Kimberly Drew and “Barracoon” by Zora Neale Hurston. Reeder’s work is multifaceted and multisensory, inviting a conversation to occur within the space and with the media.

Through photography, Christopher K. Lee’s (MFA in Photography, 2024) project “Armed Doesn’t Mean Dangerous” (2023) offers another lens into the meaning of the Black domestic. He takes viewers into the world and homes of Black gun owners in Texas. This work seeks to reflect his experience with guns in his community and home, and it is a literal reframing of preconceptions viewers may hold about gun owners. The framing and lighting feature the subject and, while the gun is not hidden, often even held by the subject, it is not in light — not the main focus of the photo.

Brianna Perry’s (MFA in Fibers and Painting, 2024) works “Ross Kids,” “Ruled by Mercury or Tammie and Deborah,” “Mississippi House,” and “Cubie and Jessie” (2023) encompass the viewer in rawly formed canvases stretched upon a birchlike surface — hazy images emerge from surfaces like water, using the fluidity of this medium to envelop the clouded nature of memories. Working with fibers, her work calls attention to “imperfection and mistake,” as she recalls stories of Blackness contextualized in Mississippi and Chicago. Her work situates itself like family photos, placed in voids of off-white color. Her domestic scenes call the viewer into a recollection of the past, beckoning for those who have undertaken their own migrations to connect in the flow of the surface of her work.

In “The Black Domestic,” viewers are engaged with a variety of retellings of home and community in Blackness. From assemblage to fiber to photography, the exhibition orients itself across a spread of mediums. In the words of the curators, we “wouldn’t define ‘The Black Domestic’ individually but treat it as a gesture towards shared experiences and collective imagination that takes shape in Black memory and life.” 

This space provides a place for archival practices to initiate with art and create meaningful discussions. The experience causes one to linger and engage fully — sit in it. Read the literature. This is a living space that can challenge, educate, and inspire.

Black Domestic Installation View. Photo by Nitya Mehrotra.

 

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