Black Joy: Expansive, Unfiltered, Unapologetic

The "Black Joy" exhibition logo

A new exhibition at Ohio State showcases works by local Black artists reflecting on the pan-African experience and landing, perhaps, on a story different than what was told by street art created during Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests: a story that focuses more on the goodness of being Black rather than just on the pain.

Black Joy: Expansive, Unfiltered, Unapologetic grew out of an idea from Ohio State students and is an exhibition of artwork by 13 Black artists on view at Thompson Library and the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center. It opened Aug. 20 and will continue through Feb. 28, 2023.

The concept for the exhibition – which features artwork by campus and community Black artists – grew from an exhibition last year at Thompson Library. That show included pieces of artwork that had been created during BLM protests on the protective plywood panels covering storefronts in downtown Columbus. Student groups responded that those pieces reflected too narrow – and too overwhelming – of a viewpoint.

“Students commented that the art on the panels focused on the anger and pain and sorrow of the Black experience,” explains Jeremy Stone, University Libraries' exhibitions coordinator. “As a response, they came up with an idea of an uplifting exhibition on Black joy instead, a show celebrating and exploring the joy of being Black.”

The Black Caucus of the Undergraduate Student Government embraced the idea, quickly stepping in as a key organizer, partner and co-curator with Libraries and the Hale Center.

Explains Kendra Asiedu, vice chair of community relations for the Black Caucus, “The (protest) art was very informational, and came from a lot of diverse perspectives, but it was centered and focused on Black pain. That was really overwhelming for some Black students, especially with the political and social landscape at the time.”

The group wanted to give local Black artists an opportunity to create art about the broader Black experience. “We wanted to get away from a generalized view of Black pain. We wanted to showcase uplifting and joyful works by Black artists who could stand in their own reality.”

The group came up with a title for the show and sent out a call for artists. “The title was discussed a lot. Black Joy is straight to the point,” she says. “There were no other real guidelines. Artists could submit art that reflects Black joy, and we wanted them to define that for themselves.”

The group was surprised at the immediate response, especially from the community. “One of the missions of the Black Caucus is to bring the Black Columbus community and Black student community together, so it was really great to get the response and interest from local artists.” Submissions also came in from campus artists and even some youth artists from local organizations.

The broad range of art making up the exhibition includes 17 pieces from 13 artists. “In this multi-venue exhibition, viewers will find a wide range of styles and mediums from various artists at different stages of their careers,” says Stone. The works include paintings on canvas, drawings, photos and mixed media works, ceramics, digital illustrations and even a children’s book.

“Terreece Clarke’s book, 'Olivia’s Potty Adventures,' came about when she was searching to find a potty training book where her daughter could see herself represented,” says Stone, referencing the illustrated book on view at Thompson Library. After a search turned up nothing, Clarke decided to write and publish the book herself for her daughter and other Black families and kids.

Also among the works in the exhibition are two of Malachi Brook’s paintings, “Neo Mona Lisa” and “Black Jesus,” which flank the main fireplace at the Hale Center.

Asiedu hopes viewers come away from the exhibition with several things. “I hope they learn more about the expansive art aspects that exist within the Columbus community; Columbus is very much an art city and there are some fantastic artists here,” she says. “I also hope people realize there are many different elements of blackness, not just the ones portrayed in the media. There are a lot of textures and uniqueness within blackness and in Black girlhood and Black boyhood, and whatever else encompasses our identity. There’s not only Black pain, but there’s also a lot of joy in being Black as well.”