Question Bridge: Black Males opened on January 10th as the third exhibit presented in the von Auersperg Gallery this school year. As part of the school-wide celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this video installation was the result of a collaboration between Deerfield and UMass Amherst’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where the exhibit can also be seen.
By using videography as an art form, the exhibit records conversations between black males in America. In 1969, artist Chris Johnson began the project, and by the end of the four-year working period, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair had joined him.
Together, they gathered exchanges between 150 black men of all ages and backgrounds. These men were connected through video cameras and discussed questions about dating women, educational and financial realities, and strengths and weaknesses of the black community.
Mr. Johnson said, “Not enough has been done to represent a multi-faceted and self-determined representation of this demographic …This project brings the full spectrum of what it means to be ‘black’ and ‘male’ in America to the forefront. ‘Blackness’ ceases to be a simple, monochromatic concept.”
Although this show was introduced in conjunction with MLK Day, Director of the von Auersperg Gallery Lydia Hemphill emphasized the significance of the exhibit on its own. She said, “It’s a show unto itself that we want to be enjoyed and appreciated and discussed by the community at large, whether we had MLK Day celebration or not.”
Spanish and Visual Arts Teacher Mrs. Mercedes Taylor added, “I think the Office of Inclusion has made a special effort to bring sustainable dialogue into Deerfield, and how do you sustain dialogue about race, about identity, about gender? That’s what we hope we bring to the community: a conversation that could begin or continue here but would have more of a long-term impact.”
Arianne Evans ’16 visited the exhibit and commented on how Deerfield could adapt the question-and-answer model to resolve issues present in the school. A possible way to do this, she said, would be “setting up a booth somewhere and having a camera and [allowing] people to go in there and ask any question they want or think is an issue at Deerfield, and anybody can come in and answer that freely without feeling judged for someone else listening. If we can create a video like Question Bridge: Deerfield Student and let people watch that, I think that would really make a huge impact on our community.”
Many people cited the unique format of the film as one of the most defining characteristics of the exhibit. Ms. Taylor said, “I asked in my class, ‘How many of you have ever seen a video installation?’ and two people raised their hands. So it’s a first, and that’s something to be proud of—we’re bringing a broader sense of what art can be.”
Ultimately, Question Bridge: Black Males raises questions about race, gender, and stereotypes. Lucy Beimfohr ’17 said, “An important thing I noticed about the video content is that there is usually no consensus on the answers to the questions. I think this lack of agreement is purposeful…They are all black and all male, but each is one-of-a-kind, with different experiences and opinions, and thus is bound to have a unique answer to these questions. In fact, the only thing this whole group does have in common is those two exterior characteristics.”
Ms. Hemphill concluded, “I hope members of the Deerfield community feel challenged to think about issues of race that they might have not thought about before, no matter what their backgrounds are. There is universal subject matter that is presented in this exhibit that is important to grapple with for all of us, students and adults.”