The Black Index
May 1 - August 14, 2021
Lava Thomas, Mugshot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Alberta J. James, 2018, Graphite and Conté pencil on paper, 47 x 33 ¼ inches, Collection of Doree Friedman.
The Palo Alto Art Center is pleased to present The Black Index, a group exhibition featuring the work of Dennis Delgado, Alicia Henry, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Titus Kaphar, Whitfield Lovell, and Lava Thomas.
The artists featured in The Black Index build upon the tradition of Black self representation as an antidote to colonialist images. Using drawing, performance, printmaking, sculpture, and digital technology to transform the recorded image, these artists question our reliance on photography as a privileged source for documentary objectivity and understanding. Their works offer an alternative practice—a Black index—that still serves as a finding aid for information about Black subjects, but also challenges viewers’ desire for classification.
The works in The Black Index make viewers aware of their own expectations of Black figuration by interrupting traditional epistemologies of portraiture through unexpected and unconventional depictions. These works image the Black body through a conceptual lens that acknowledges the legacy of Black containment that is always present in viewing strategies. The approaches used by Delgado, Henry, Hinkle, Kaphar, Lovell, and Thomas suggest understandings of Blackness and the racial terms of our neo-liberal condition that counter legal and popular interpretations and, in turn, offer a paradigmatic shift within Black visual culture.
The Black Index is curated by Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor, Department of African American Studies and the Department of Art History, University of California, Irvine. Exhibition and tour organized by Sarah Watson, Chief Curator, Hunter College Art Galleries, New York in collaboration with the University Art Galleries at UC Irvine, Palo Alto Art Center, and Art Galleries at Black Studies, University of Texas at Austin.
Lead support for The Black Index is provided by The Ford Foundation with additional support by UCI Confronting Extremism Program, Getty Research Institute, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Carol and Arthur Goldberg, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, Leubsdorf Fund at Hunter College, Joan Lazarus Fellowship program at Hunter College, Pamela and David Hornik, Loren and Mike Gordon, University of California Office of the President Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiative Funding, University of California Humanities Research Institute, Applied Materials Foundation, Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts and Culture Initiative, UCI Humanities Center, Department of African American Studies, Department of Art History, The Reparations Project, and the UC Irvine Black Alumni Chapter. This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit calhum.org.
Associated Public Programs:
Friday Night at the Art Center recording, with a virtual walkthrough by exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks, a reading of The Black Index essay by Aldo Billingslea, a redaction poetry activity with playwright Leelee Jackson, and a presentation by Palo Alto author Julie Lythcott-Haims.
Conversation with Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and Lava Thomas
Black American Art History: People, Places, and Things lecture series
The Black Index Publication Launch
The publication is available through Hirmer Verlag and University of Chicago Press. The Black Index publication is made possible by the support of the Ford Foundation, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, and the Leubsdorf Fund at Hunter College.