The Shape of Blackness announced the launch of its virtual art exhibition and media campaign featuring Black artists from South Africa and Oakland, CA comparing their perspective on Blackness, Race, and Identity in 2021. The exhibit features 11 visual artists, 5 from South Africa and 6 from Oakland, who created work in response to the question: “When you look at contemporary Blackness, what do you see?”
Created by Cedric Brown of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, The Shape of Blackness exhibition engages perspectives on the Black experience— past, present, and future— to engage artists in a transnational conversation through visual art. Participating artists include Theko Boshomane, Tshepiso Moropa, Lebohang Motaung, Lebo Thoka, and Helena Uambembe from South Africa; and Aaron Beitia, Courageous, Nicole Dixon, Michon Sanders, Brette Sims, and Abba Yahudah from the United States. Brown partnered with curators Trevor Parham of Oakstop to select the Oakland artists and with Johannesburg-based Odysseus Shirindza to select the South African artists.
“SHAPE provides an opportunity to delve into a conversation, in a nuanced way through visual art, to change negative perceptions that are ingrained in our communities, whether on the Continent or in the Diaspora,” said Shirindza. “SHAPE redirects that thinking and recreates positive images about Blackness and interconnectedness and Black people globally.”
The exhibit is powered by the virtual gallery platform, Exhibbit, which offers a 3D art gallery environment allowing anyone in the world to move around the gallery space to view artwork, read artist statements, and learn more about the art or artists through the SHAPE website. SHAPE also offers viewers a chance to respond to the exhibit and join the conversation via comments on the SHAPE website. The website also serves as a platform for an ongoing media campaign featuring videos of the artists and organizers delving deeper into the topic of Blackness, comparing perspectives across continents. The conversation coincides with a slew of racially charged events in 2020 and 2021, spanning the impact of the pandemic on Black communities to the murder of George Floyd to the election of Kamala Harris.
“Events in the last year put race-based inequality squarely in the global spotlight,” said Parham. “We’re finally being seen and heard in ways that we haven’t in a long time, both by our own people and by the rest of the world. SHAPE addresses this contemporary Black interpretive experience, which is needed, useful, and of interest in this virtuous and vicious cycle of heightened awareness.”
In choosing South Africa and the US, SHAPE seeks perspectives and a dialogue from the global north and south, Black majority and Black “minority” nations with similar historical contexts— the rise from the boot heel of anti-Black state oppression, and an historical transAtlantic alliance throughout Civil Rights/Black Power and anti-Apartheid resistance movements; the presence of immigrant populations from elsewhere in the diaspora and the occasional accompanying tensions between “us” and “them”; and the continued undermining of Black progress due to persistent inequities and discrimination, regardless of the skin color of the perpetrator.
“Our historical contexts are different, but the impacts of deep and violent anti-Blackness are all too alike,” said Brown. “Black Americans and South Africans stand to learn from and be motivated by each other, especially via the brilliant cultures that each have created, even in the face of suboptimal conditions. SHAPE is just one illustration of that richness.”
SHAPE embraces the current reliance on virtual platforms to take advantage of social distancing and engage artists/audiences across the globe. As such, this is one of the first-ever art exhibitions (if not the only) to engage Black artists from different continents in a virtual gallery format that bridges distant geographies for an opportunity to unite in conversation.
As the virtual exhibition and media campaign spread throughout South Africa and the US, SHAPE hopes to engage others around the world via the website and social media to spark further conversation, additional videos, and even more art from artists on other continents.
SHAPE was supported by a grant from the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity.
Anyone interested in viewing the exhibit can access it directly at ShapeOfBlackness.com. Viewers interested in contributing to the media campaign can post videos to Instagram or Facebook, tagging @oakstop and using the hashtag #shapeofblackness.