‘A Picture Gallery of the Soul’ features photos from more than 100 artists capturing Black life

The title of the exhibit was inspired by Frederick Douglass’ Lecture on Pictures.

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Black history and culture in America are examined through a new mixed media exhibition now on display at the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

Curated by Herman Milligan and Howard Oransky, the exhibit titled “A Picture Gallery of the Soul,” opened last week and includes photographic works by 111 Black American artists whose expressions span the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, the Star Tribune reports. 

Deborah Willis of New York University said the work of the artists in the exhibit can “construct new narratives about moments in history.” She also notes in the exhibition catalog that these photographs, some with a political theme, aim to explore “what soul means to the artists and the curators.”

Ayana V. Jackson Consider the Sky and the Sea, 2019 Series Take Me to the Water Archival pigment print on German etching paper 46 ⅞ x 42 ⅞ in. (Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim.)

Willis writes, according to the Star Tribune, “The idea of soul is not conceptual — it is the fluid intersection between past, present and future. It is evidentiary.”

The title of the exhibit was inspired by Frederick Douglass’ “Lecture on Pictures,” which he delivered in Boston in 1861 during the Civil War. Rashid Johnson pays homage to the celebrated abolitionist with his photograph titled “Self-Portrait With My Hair Parted Like Frederick Douglass.”

There is also a series titled “A Bleak Reality” by Kris Graves that highlights sites where police killed Black men like Philando Castile and Michael Brown.

“We’re showing you, in a way, the 360 degrees, as best as we can, of this Black American experience,” Milligan said.

A vintage photograph in an 1883 tintype is the oldest original image in the exhibit, while the newest work was printed two years ago. The exhibition boasts contributions from 15 local artists as well as renowned photographers Dawoud Bey, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Rashid Johnson.

Kwame Brathwaite Untitled (Kwame Brathwaite Self Portrait at AJASS Studios), 1964 c., printed 2016 Archival pigment print, mounted and framed, 30 x 30 in. (Courtesy of the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles.)

“Many of these photographers are recent immigrants — some from Jamaica, Cuba, Africa, or the people have grown up in the U.S. and taken African names — but each and every one of them have taken the art form in order to tell a story relative to this African-American experience through their own eyes,” Milligan explained.

“The show really reflects the ‘normality’ or the life of the [Black] American,” Milligan said of “A Picture Gallery of the Soul,” which was originally slated to open in 2020 but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A free public reception is slated for Sept. 22, but an RSVP is required.

Mara Duvra Remembering, 2019 Pigmented inkjet print, 17 x 22 in. (Courtesy of the artist.)

“A Picture Gallery of the Soul,” which is free and open to the public, runs until Dec. 10. Find more information here

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