The Binghamton University Art Museum debuted its most extensive display of African American artwork to date in early September with “not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today,” a gallery titled after a Fred Monten poem. The gallery, which aims to “evidence the ongoing struggle to affirm Black identity within an America marked since its founding by the legacy of slavery, segregation and racial discrimination,” contains art presented in many different mediums from key eras of creative production in African American history, from the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights and Black Power eras to modern times.
The pieces of art featured in the exhibition were all created by African American artists and show how the wide range of styles and techniques used over the course of decades correspond to ideas of African American selfhood.
Paintings like “Lost Boys: AKA BB” (1993) by Kerry James Marshall show an African American take on the lost boy companions from Peter Pan. In the painting, Marshall alludes to a trend of many African American youth being denied the opportunity to grow up and reach adulthood in the societal climate of the United States. There are dark tones of acrylic and collage styles used in the painting, which depicts “BB,” a lost boy, looking out solemnly.
There are also several lithographs, titled “Runaways” (1993), by Glenn Ligon. The 10 images provide a dispersed portrait of a fugitive slave, which Ligon created by asking friends to provide descriptions of him as if they were reporting him missing to the police. In a 1997 interview, Ligon said the piece aims to show “how an individual’s identity is inextricable from the way one is positioned in culture, from the ways people see you [and] from historical and political contexts.”
While these works of art are more somber, there are other paintings that are lighter, such as the oil and acrylic on canvas painting “North Philly N****h (William Corbett),” created by Barkley L. Hendricks in 1975. The painting depicts a black man — sharp as ever in a long peach trench coat with fur lapels and a collared magenta shirt underneath. Hendricks was drawn to the style and aura of individuals, like this man, which became his muse. He, along with several other painters featured in the exhibition, aims to show black people as we see ourselves, and not just depict our brokenness and pain.
In addition to displaying the gallery in the museum while the exhibition is open, the BU Art Museum will also host interactive events throughout the fall semester. The events will end with the closing of the exhibition on Dec. 7. The events, most of which are free for the public to attend, include:
“A Reading and Talk by Fred Moten” — Thursday, Oct. 10 at 12 p.m. in the BU Art Museum
“Dance Day at the Museum” with the Binghamton Boys and Girls Club Dance Team — Thursday, Oct. 10 at 4:30 p.m. in the BU Art Museum
“University Family Weekend” with the BU Gospel Choir — Saturday, Oct. 12 at 2:30 p.m. in the BU Art Museum
Film screening of “To Sleep with Anger” (Charles Burnett, 1990) — Friday, Nov. 1 and Sunday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the BU Art Museum
“Artist talk with Willie Cole” — Thursday, Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. in the BU Art Museum
“Simone, Ellington and Parks” with the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra — Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Forum Theater in Downtown Binghamton
“Exhibition closing” — Saturday, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. in the BU Art Museum