No one loves us, like us.
Black girls don’t regularly see themselves celebrated in mainstream spaces dedicated to the fine arts. In fact, the idea of walking into one of the world’s largest and most acclaimed art museums located on Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side and seeing us on display, living unapologetically in our many colorful layers, from getting our hair flat ironed at the salon with a Biscuitville cup in the background to being a guest at a family birthday party where plastic cups are meticulously filled with ginger ale seems farfetched; even in 2020. And yet, that is just what you’ll find at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Pen, Lens & Soul: The Story of The Beautiful Project, on display until February 24.
Located within the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education at The Met, Pen, Lens & Soul includes a moving collection of photographs taken by girls ages 8 to 15 and a video installation “Dear Black Girl,” directed by Cristin Stephens. There’s even a sisterhood creed including the powerful prose, “I am determined to abandon jealously when it comes to you because you are me and when you receive, so do I. I recognize that my smile holds you up. My kind, sincere words encourage you to jump believing the net will appear.”
Photographer Jamaica Gilmer, the founder and executive director of The Beautiful Project, explains her dedication to those talented young shutterbugs who contributed to the exhibit, “When we had interns I would do my [photography] trainings anywhere, including my home and backyard.” The Howard University grad and mother of two told The New York Times, “We do this not to convince the world to see Black girls and women as dignified. We do this because we want to constantly acknowledge and see our own dignity.”
Founded in 2004, The Beautiful Project is a Durham, North Carolina–based collective of Black creatives and educators who encourage Black girls and women to be the caretakers of their images and needs in a safe space. Through writing, photography and programming, The Beautiful Project embraces Black girls within a loving community. Members of The Beautiful Project amplify the voices of Black girls and women, encouraging them to own conversations that are often about them but without them.
Gratitude to Gilmer for helping to fill a void that many of us had, even unconsciously. A void filled with a desire to be seen, heard and respected simply for being us. Because representation matters and it especially matters for Black girls and women.
Pen, Lens & Soul is on display at The Met until February 24. More information about the exhibit including ticket details can be found here.