Gallery: Detroit Institute of Arts challenges stereotypes in 'The New Black Vanguard,' a 4-month photo exhibit

December 17, 2021, 3:33 PM by  Alan Stamm

Untitled still life from 2017 by Awol Erizku, 33, an Ethiopian-American artist who lives in New York and Los Angeles. Eight more works are below(Photos: Detroit Institute of Arts)

Over 100 photographs by 15 young camera artists from around the globe went on view Friday at the Detroit Institute of Arts in "The New Black Vanguard" -- a four-month "exhibition that fuses the genres of art and fashion photography in ways that break down their long-established boundaries," a description says.

The DIA sells the catalog for $50 (link at left above).

The traveling display had a pre-Covid debut for three months in Manhattan at the Aperture Gallery, which published a hardcover collection of the works with text by show curator Antwaun Sargent, a Brooklyn arts writer. The DIA show also has a few images by local artists. 

"What ties [these creators] together is their desire to think about black identity in photography and what has been missing," Sargent says in a video below. "What's being challenged is a view of blackness that has been constructed primary by a white imagination, and that is primarily constructed as stereotypes." 

The exhibit by artists aged 25-35 gained international attention last summer at the Rencontres d'Arles in Provence, France -- one of the world's largest and most prestigious photography festivals. 

The DIA presentation, free for tricounty Metro Detroiters through April 17, has a final "New Gazes" section with work by Detroit photographers Bre’Ann White, Mishira Davis and Ray Rogers. 

Jamal Nxedlana, 36, shot this in Johannesburg, South Africa, two years ago.

Aperture Gallery, where "The New Black Vanguard" originated in October 2019, describes its intent:

The images open up conversations around the roles of the black body and black lives as subject matter. Collectively, they celebrate black creativity and the cross-pollination between art, fashion and culture in constructing an image.

Seeking to challenge the idea that blackness is homogenous, the works serve as a form of visual activism. It's a perspective often seen from this loose movement of emerging talents, who are creating photography in vastly different contexts—New York and Johannesburg, Lagos and London. The results—often made in collaboration with black stylists and fashion designers—present new perspectives on the medium of photography and the notions of race and beauty, gender and power.

This exhibition includes selected works from groundbreaking contemporary photographers ... [who are] proposing a brilliantly re-envisioned future.

"These photographers ... are fighting photography with photography." (Photo: French TV screenshot)

Essentially, "these photographers are ... fighting photography with photography," says Sargent, the 33-year-old New York curator. In the three-minute video embedded below our mini-gallery, he adds: 

"What's happening right now with these very young artists is significant. It has shifted our culture, it has shifted how we think about photography, it has shifted who gets to shoot images. These are going to be the photographers that define this generation in images."

7 more exhibit images from DIA:

"Elevated," shot by Dana Scruggs in Death Valley, Calif., three years ago.

"Joy as an Act of Resistance," a 2018 image (cropped) by London-born photographer Nadine Ijewere, 29, whose parents are Nigerian and Jamaican.

Cropped image of 2019 photo shot in New York by Tyler Mitchell.

"Gold Finger" by Adrienne Raquel, shot in New York City two years ago (cropped).

Campbell Addy, 28, shot this untitled work in 2018 in New York. The Balenciaga sweatshirt says World Food Programme under its logo.

Renell Medrano, 29, created "Slick Woods" in 2019 in Brooklyn.

Stephen Tayo, now 27, shot this colorful array in Lagos, Nigeria, two years ago.

Video remarks by exhibit curator:


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