African American Art History Initiative: Celebrating Black Visual Culture at The Getty Museum

“Take Up space.” LeRonn P. Brooks said to the gathered. I felt that touch my soul like a fingertip ANOINTING wisdom.  The idea of taking up space in the world around me, interacting with it, being a creative artist creating in it –  followed me through Lisbon, in copenhagen and on the streets of amsterdam.

When Keisha reached out to me to see if I was interested in attending the Getty Research Institute event “Celebrating Black Visual Culture” presented by the African American Art History Initiative at the Getty, I was honestly honored. Personally, Keisha, currently an administrator at the Getty, was a friend that I’ve always looked up to and felt inspired by, ever since we’d first met, decades ago. So, to have her witness me and invite me to an event felt special.

The highlight of the event was a collective panel between LeRonn P. Brooks, AAAHI Curator & Panel Moderator: “Celebrating Black Visual Culture”: Themes of Tradition and Legacy and panelists that included Joy Simmons, an Art Collector & Philanthropist; Richard J. Powell,  Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University; and Halima Taha, an Art Advocate and Author.

The event was truly an expression of black excellence and beauty. I felt like I was witnessing and present in a safe space of expression of black joy, expression and magnificence.

Once the panel conversation began, I was ready for the wisdom. Some of the highlights:

  • TAKE UP SPACE and be present in the environments that you wish to be in. Do not wait for someone else to give you permission – give yourself permission.
  • Art tells a broader story of humanity. When societies collapse, the art remains.
  • If you’re interested in getting into art collection, start with what you are interested in. View your collection as a cultivation of images that create emotion and reflection.
  • If you’re looking where to start in art collection, start small. As yourself – what does it mean for you to curate art and images that connect with you? What does it mean for you to collect art? Yes, you can focus on collecting “traditional dominate gazed” art. But, it is more powerful to collect pieces that emotes passion and emotion from you.
  • African American art expresses complex stories. What draws you in? The focus on identity, social issues, class, gender, time & space or community?
  •  Art is a conversation between the artist, the creation and the viewer. There is no right or wrong way to look at art.
  • An artist should continue to create their art. It is important and needed. You do not know what your art will do. You don’t know what conversation it will invoke beyond the snap of your camera or the last brushstroke.

Once the panel discuss was complete, Keisha and I conversed over dining on various delicious bites of creole spiced shrimp and grits and sweet pea hand pies.

What I took away from this event is the importance of representation. Representation, especially within the African American culture – matters. Artists need to take up space, because we have valid emotions to express.

Art has played such crucial role in reflecting and preserving cultural heritage on Earth. It documents significant events, societal values, and traditions, serving as a historical record.

As an artist, it is imperative that one understands how art also provides a sense of belonging and continuity. It also has the capacity to influence social and political landscapes, raising awareness about critical issues and inspiring movements for change.

Art is deeply, powerfully important.

“Art is a living record of humanity.”

Keisha G.

Later that month, I traveled Europe for a few weeks.

I can say, without a doubt that – while walking the streets of Lisbon, photographing boats in Copenhagen and taking in a sunset in Amsterdam – the profound statement of taking up space in the world – and knowing I belonged in it, beyond existing in America – rang true.