Sunday, August 19, 2012


Harlem, USA: the gentrified forest


When I first heard about the Old Harlem/New Harlem art exhibit, I thought it would display images of old Harlem haunts and residences that no longer exist due to the mighty Gentrification eraser that has been rubbing out mainstay businesses and it’s owners, low to mid income residential areas and the uniqueness of Harlem culture for the past several years.

Instead, what is on display is a photographic story book of Harlem’s human connection, past and present. Exhibit coordinators Lisa Dubois of ’Dubois PhotoArt’ and Renaissance artist, (the poet Shazza) of ‘Peace Of Mind Publishing’, procured 17 photographers, in addition to themselves, to create this homage owed to the many lives that were and are woven into the fabric of what Harlem was and is still striving to continue.

The exhibit encompasses a collaborated body of work that exudes emotion, passion and the true essence of Harlem’s community of old and new.

The artists’ works included are explosive and rendering of heart and soul. Throughout this eclectic exhibition you are met with the diversity that is truly Harlem. This much needed show includes artists from the well-known Harlem and Bronx based photography cooperatives, Kamoinge and Enfoco.

The legendary Kamoinge artists exhibiting in the show are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Jamel Shabazz, Shawn Walker, June DeLairre Truesdale and John Pinderhughes; they have all provided very moving and enveloping images that take you on a journey through Harlem’s space and time.

Mr. Barboza also helped curate the show along with Ms. Dubois. I caught up with Anthony Barboza, during the opening night of the exhibit.

I asked Mr. Barboza about his style of documentary photography, he replied: “My style is about feeling, feeling of others and feeling of self.”

When I asked Shawn Walker about his style of photography and what keeps his creative energies flowing, he explained: “I ceased calling myself a photographer years ago, I consider myself to be a cultural anthropologist.” He went on to say: “I am an artist, and there is no time when you sit down and say I am going to stop creating art.”

The show displays images from circa 1960’s to present day, every image in the show speaks someone’s life in Harlem, USA.

Also on the roster is former President of the National Conference of Artists (NCA), Kwame Brathwaite “The Keeper of Images”, and his younger brother John Brathwaite. Enfoco’s Sonia Louise Davis and artist, photographer and educator; Dr. Deborah Willis also have work featured in the show.

Kwame Brathwaite's image of the "Godfather of Soul' James Brown on his knees at the Apollo Theatre symbolizes the soul singer's passion and depth.

Rounding out the list of exemplary photographic artists are Harlem Documentarians, Klytus Smith, Lewis Watts, Lenore Brown, Lee White, Burroughs Lamar, Ocean Morisset, Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu, Lisa Dubois and (the poet Shazza).

The spectators included a list of who’s who as well, Senator Bill Perkins and the revered master of Henri Cartier-Bresson's "Decisive Moment", legendary documentary photojournalist Elliott Erwitt was in attendance, Mr. Erwitt expressed that he enjoyed the exhibit. Grand Master Kham, Poet Don Raphel and writer Playthell Benjamin and Wynton Marsalis’ road photographer Ernest Gregory was also in attendance. Also in attendance was Renauld White, the first African-American model to appear on the cover of GQ magazine.

Although the show is filled with iconic Harlem images from Barboza, Walker, Brathwaite, Shabazz, Lamar, Pinderhughes and so many others, the one series that stands out in my memory were the images captured by the Barcelona, Spain photographer Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu. In her still documentary, 'Life on the Block' the study of young Puerto Rican women and their families living in Spanish Harlem, she documents the family in its natural emotional life setting, no frills at all.. In addition, Lenore Brown’s images encourage you to explore beyond the photo and seek the actual story living within them.

Ms Sanfeliu stated: “Although the family allowed me to document them, early on they would refer to me as the feds, (laughs) despite my Latina heritage.”

We must commend these artists on their commitment to documenting and preserving these images of the human connection of Harlem, every photo represents the embodiment of an exclusive part of NYC that produced the Harlem Renaissance, the Apollo Theater, Sylvia’s soul food restaurant, the Cotton Club, and Harlem’s diverse community of people who brought and brings life to the Harlem kaleidoscope.

The Old Harlem/New Harlem Photo exhibit will be on display through August 31st, at the following:

The Rio II Gallery, 7th floor – Penthouse
Broadway Housing Communities
583 Riverside Drive, New York, NY
Gallery hours 10:00am – 5:00pm Mon – Fri.


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