archival treasures: representing black subjects

March 8–July 14, 2019

Blackness permeates the culture of the United States. Images of black folks are ubiquitous and their impact on the way people are able to exist in the world cannot be overstated. Black culture has been absorbed into the American mainstream and works to shape popular culture internationally – but while black cultural production is celebrated, appropriated, and capitalized on, black people continue to suffer the consequences of centuries of misrepresentation.

What does it mean to look at an image? And what do we take for granted? Visual culture plays a significant role in the way we understand ourselves and each other and is a powerful means of disseminating that information on a global scale. The ways marginalized people are depicted in dominant culture heavily influence our day-to-day lives. Archival Treasures centers black subjects within the SCMA’s collection in an attempt to highlight not only physical representations of black people, but the interiority and lived experiences of blackness that so rarely surface in the mainstream.

Blackness is no singular thing. It cannot be condensed or distilled – it is as broad as it is specific, a concept that contains multitudes. This installation is an exploration of that multiplicity in its expansiveness and contradictions, offering a spectrum of images without trying to make any definitive statement about what it means to be black. This installation seeks to provide an experience: to allow the viewer space to consider the power of these objects, their subjects, and their own ways of looking. It is a reclamation, a celebration, and a meditation on how expansive representation can perhaps do some of the work of mitigating its burden.


Image: Henri Cartier-Bresson. French, 1908–2004. USA, Texas, 1957. 1957. Vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar.