Black Interiors

Black Interiors: Envisioning a Place of Our Own

“The black interior is a metaphysical space beyond the black public everyday toward power and wild imagination that black people ourselves know we possess but need to be reminded of. It is a space that black people ourselves have policed at various historical moments. Tapping into this black imaginary helps us envision what we are not meant to envision: complex black selves, real and enactable black power, rampant and unfetishized black beauty.”

- Elizabeth Alexander, "The Black Interior"

In her seminal text The Black Interior, Elizabeth Alexander describes a reality beyond what is currently perceptible to the senses. One constructed and cultivated by black people away from the scrutiny of those who try to invade and dictate both the physical and spiritual domains of their existence. Pulling inspiration from Alexander’s collection of essays, Black Interiors: Envisioning a Place of Our Own explores the black aesthetic and psyche by drawing attention to interior spaces as sites of liberation and creative expression.  

Behind the façades of Loïs Mailou Jones’s “Old House Near Frederick Virginia” (1942) or the southern “shacks” which inspired Beverly Buchanan’s “Untitled (Red Ladder)” (1995) are domestic spaces that are nurtured and protected. Within these enclosed walls African Americans re-envision space as freedom, fashioning their homes to reflect their personal values and cultural memory. The interior of the home—along with all who dwell within—is sacred for African Americans, who have consistently wrestled with the impermanence of place perpetrated by chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and gentrification.  

This exhibition showcases artwork as well as archival documents including: photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, and newspaper articles related to the continuous efforts of those within the African Diaspora to designate and create communities of their own within the United States and abroad. Artists from Clark Atlanta University Art Museum and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art’s permanent collections offer a glimpse into private rooms of the home to depict precious moments of solitude and contemplation, while personal letters, family photos, and diary entries collected and preserved by the Atlanta University Center Archives Research Center disclose intimate details of life as an African American.  By unpacking the politics and poetics of the often racialized and gendered space within and around the household, the works included critically examine how our social relations and cultural practices are shaped. 

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Exhibit curated and written by AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library's GLAM Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning & Archives Research Center staff