‘Black History/My History’ celebrates diverse experiences of Blackness


Jack Austin/Daily Senior Staffer

Yaounde Olu stands in front of a series of paintings displayed for “Black History/My History.” Olu, a self-described retro-futurist envisions positive futures for Black people in her art.

Jack Austin, Senior Staffer

Featuring more than 25 Black artists, “Black History/My History,” an exhibit at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, displays personal and collective interpretations of Black experience and history. 

Several artists described their unique visions of Blackness at the exhibit’s opening ceremony Feb. 17. The exhibit runs through April 10 and commemorates Black History Month. 

Thomas Mosley said he attempts to honor Black faces and history through a “trippy style” that takes the viewer on “mind journeys.” 

Mosley said he was teased for having big lips as a child, leading him to find art as a mode of expression and catharsis.

“I represented (in my art) where I am and where I came from, and I’m proud of that,” Mosley said. “I definitely would say it’s a healing process — it’s almost just a feeling you have to go through.”

When he started attending Tennessee State University, a historically Black university, Mosley said he began to love himself and find his “inner Blackness.” Mosley said his painting for the exhibit shows his self-love and acceptance of his Black identity. 

Debra Salter said while she is biracial with Dutch and Black ancestry, she has always identified as Black. 

Salter’s painting “Perspective” explored the toxic legacy of the “one-drop” rule, a 20th century legal principle which asserted that individuals with any Black ancestors should be racially classified as Black. 

“They made it seem like it was an affront to be Black,” Salter said. “We should not still be living in the same racist culture.” 

Retro-futurist artist Yaounde Olu said her art aims to project a positive future for Black people. Olu said she wants to be an individual who can transcend limitations and create a future for Black individuals that does not have a foundation in oppression.

Crystal McDonald said she wants people to be inspired to be unapologetically themselves after looking at her paintings. 

McDonald said she appreciated the vast ways Black individual experience manifested itself throughout the exhibit. 

“What really stood out to me is how each of us individually see our own Black history,” McDonald said.

Evanston-based artist Fran Joy curated the show. Joy sought to create a diverse exhibition. She said that the idea of Blackness across culture and countries ties people together. 

Joy said that in terms of Black history it is important to not only teach colonization and enslavement, but pre-enslavement that recognizes royalty, architecture, literature and music. 

“The impact of only focusing on enslavement and causation is you have kids that grew up with low sense of self worth,” Joy said. “(Black children) need to understand they have this kind of (positive) ancestry.” 

Art agent and Golden Hour Collective Owner Ogechi Harry, represents Nigerian-Canadian artist Ojo Agi. 

Three of Agi’s pen-and-marker drawings celebrating Black identity and feminist values were featured in the exhibit. 

“When I look at these pieces, I see myself, I see my family,” Harry said. “Like somebody has taken the time to study the beauty of Black women, but also to give them power in the way they choose where your gaze (goes).” 

Evanston raised artist J. Allen Hyde creates three-dimensional paintings using pieces of plastic and spray paint. 

For the show, Hyde’s unconventional painting depicted the Chicago blues legend John Lee Hooker. Hyde said that he used to listen to the old blues greats on the streets, with small amplifiers, before they became famous. 

“I think it is important (to depict Black history in art) because we do have a history,” Hyde said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JackAustinNews

Related Stories: 

Chicago artist David Geary’s exhibit ‘Experimental’ explores Black identity through colorful portraits

Connie Noyes’ ‘we are built in water’ exhibit explores personal and collective grief

Chicago artist Trotter Alexander explores Hawaiian culture in Dittmar Gallery exhibit ‘Ka Makana o’ka’