‘The New Black Vanguard’ Celebrates Black Creativity and Beauty Through Powerful Photography

by | Dec 23, 2021 | Creative Destinations, Inspiration

One word can be used to describe “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” exhibition at the DIA – ‘wow’. Curated by New York-based writer and critic Antwaun Sargent, the collection features over 100 images from domestic and international photographers that combat stereotypes, celebrate Black creativity, and showcase the intersection where art, fashion, and culture meet. I visited the exhibition last Sunday and was amazed by what I learned.

Gallery space at "The New Black Vanguard" exhibition

Gallery space with photography by Jamal Nxedlana at “The New Black Vanguard”. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

‘Blackness is Not Homogenous’

Birthed in Manhattan’s Aperture Gallery in 2019, “The New Black Vanguard” takes aim at the stereotypes surrounding Black identity by using photographs that view gender, power, and beauty through a fresh, new lens. One example of this can be found in the images captured by London-based photographer Campbell Addy. In his series, Addy welcomes nontraditional views of gender through clothing and broadens the range of Black identity represented in art and fashion photography by including LGBTQIA+ identities. In a written description of his work, Addy explained:

 “To play with fashion is to play with one’s representation in the world…..As you digest these images, think about the power they hold to affirm or transform understandings of yourself and those around you.”

Campbell Addy explores clothing and gender atphotography at "The New Black Vanguard"

Campbell Addy explores clothing and gender in “The New Black Vanguard” collection. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

To combat cultural presumptions about dark skin, Chicago-based photographer Dana Scruggs skillfully uses contrast to showcase the beauty of diverse models. Her images continue a style once practiced by the African American photography collective Kamoinge, where signature black and white images belonging to artists of the group explored the concepts of darkness in photos, culture, and people.

 “The fact that I’m a Black woman capturing Black men is important to me because often Black people and Black narratives are captured by white people – sometimes through culture-vulturing initiatives or to depict poverty porn or to fetishize us,” said Scruggs.

Photography by Dana Scruggs at "The New Black Vanguard" exhibition

“Adonis #1” (left) and “Fire on the Beach” by Dana Scruggs.  (Photo: The Creative Armory)

Creativity at its Finest

“The New Black Vanguard” also takes creative expression to a whole new level. Upon entering the gallery, it was nice to be met immediately by a massive print of Tyler Mitchell’s ‘Untitled (Hijab Couture)‘. Mitchell, who was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue in 2018, is known for creating portraits of models in lavish green and colorful spaces that suggest a Black Utopia where his models can ‘just be’.

Massive print of Tyler Mitchell's "Hijab Couture"

Massive print of Tyler Mitchell’s “Hijab Couture”. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

Massive print of Tyler Mitchell's "Hijab Couture"

Vogue Magazine covers featuring photography by Tyler Mitchell. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

I also loved learning more about the inspiration behind each photographer’s composition. In “Untitled (Heads)”, Awol Erizku uses images of friends to pay homage to the Black barbershop experience and youth culture from the 1980s to early 1990s.

Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

“Untitled (Heads)”, by Awol Erizku. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

Close-up of a model from “Untitled (Heads)”, by Awol Erizku. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

Born from a Swiss father and Guinean mother, Namsa Leuba’s work draws inspiration from her double heritage and explores the perceptions of Africa from a Western perspective. Her piece,”Sarah, Lagos, Nigeria”, is from the series titled “Next Generation Lagos (NGL)” which celebrates the vibrant, creative energy of Nigerian youth culture. As someone who enjoys bright and colorful styles, this image was an instant favorite.

Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

“Sarah, Lagos, Nigeria” by Namsa Leuba. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

New Gazes at The New Black Vanguard

Before exiting the exhibition, I took a stroll through the back of the gallery to explore “New Gazes”, a special section that is exclusive to the DIA’s showing of “The New Black Vanguard”. This area showcased even more works from global photographers as well as creative images from six local photographers.

Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

Local photography on display in the special “New Gazes” section. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

“The Coney, Dillan, 9 a.m at the Coney…Waiting for a 9 Piece and Fries” by Ray Rogers. (Photo: The Creative Armory)

The Future of Photography is Here

“The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion is an exhibition that everyone must see because it is more than a gallery full of cool, colorful pictures. “The New Black Vanguard” provides a platform for young Black artists to showcase their incredible talent in an industry that has not historically been inclusive to them; fashion and art. The exhibition also does an amazing job at visually amplifying a message that needs to finally soak in; Black is beautiful. “When you look at these images, yes, you should see race because that’s important, but you should also see any number of other concerns the photographers are raising,” said the show’s curator Antwaun Sargent in the video below. “When it’s all said and done, I think these are going to be the photographers that define this generation in images.”

Conclusion

“The New Black Vanguard” debuted at the DIA on December 17,2021 and will be on display until April 17, 2022. If you are a fan of this thought-provoking collection of work, below are some ways in which you can further support the exhibition:

  • Purchase a hardcover copy of the collection here
  • Tune in for the DIA’s digital talk from Tyler Mitchell on February 24, 2022
  • Visit “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite”  in an interconnected gallery that is adjacent to “The New Black Vanguard”. This exhibition runs through Jan. 16, 2022, and provides a historical view of Black beauty by featuring Black subjects in the 1960s.
Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

Cover art from “The New Black Vanguard”  catalog. (Photo: The New Black Vanguard/Antwuan Sargent)

Melinda Anderson at Signal Return in Eastern Market

Image from the “Black is Beautiful” exhibition by Kwame Brathwaite. (Photo: Kwame Brathwaite)

By Jess McKenzie

By Jess McKenzie

Jess McKenzie is a brand identity designer from Detroit, MI. She is a self-proclaimed nerd that loves 80s movies and longs for Saturday morning cartoons to return. When she is not tied to her computer, she can be found taking random road trips and practicing landscape photography.

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