How we turned 240 years of LA’s Black History into an Artwalk

A ‘Love Letter’ Exhibit to Black LA

For the spring and summer of 2021, we worked on a very unique concept: crafting a portable pop-up exhibit artfully, that chronicles the past, present, and future of the Black experience in Los Angeles. Its joy and pain. Its challenges and breakthroughs. Through individuals and communities. This exhibit would amplify the work of the No Going Back LA committee and its Black Experience Action Team, which produced a 10-year blueprint report for uplifting Black lives in Los Angeles. This kind of work trails after other large scale art-forward installations like the Healthcare Workers Memorial commissioned by SEIU UHW in Sacramento and the ‘Up to Us’ pop-up art show in NC for former MSNBC newscaster Melissa Harris-Perry at Wake Forest University.

Structural Symbolism of our Cycles

 “We’ve got a story to tell.” You can’t do this whole story justice of course, but we wanted to take an approach that embodied the cyclical nature of the history of the Black experience in Los Angeles, from police brutality to anti-Black policies preventing economic growth to divestment in the community.  We developed a concept of a ‘carousel’, 12-feet in height and 25-feet in diameter , that would have 16 suspended panels to provide a slice of the entire story, past & present, broken down into dimensions: from Economics to Health, Migration Patterns to Art & Culture. We also have a circular structure in the center that will tell the remaining 8 stories of what the future will see and what it will require.  Walk around and travel through time within the Black experience.  You might find something new each revolution.

A Wonderful Array of Black Artists

Our creative content process involved archival photo research – some of which from multigenerational LA Black family scrapbooks – but also the curation and cultivation of artists who had relevant works in various media. We also thought it important that they be Black and have LA connections. Michael Massenburg provided several paintings to the exhibit. Mer Young created two new works for this exhibit, including our ‘center circle’ table. Glen Wilson had a most fitting image from his historically Black neighborhood of Oakwood in Venice, CA. Halline Overby, Rob Liggins, and Kevin Jones provided poignant photos that captured Black people and Black life in Los Angeles today. Was so dope to have them all involved.

Collecting LA’s Expansive Black History

Creating a focused narrative around the past & present of Blacks in LA was no easy task.  We combed through numerous archives, including the Los Angeles Public Library, gained valuable feedback from LA academics, and were even granted vintage photos from generations-deep Black Angeleno families who wanted to support this project.  Combined with current photography from local artists, we had well over 200 images to curate.  We also created a website to accompany this art exhibit, for the curious who want to go beyond the exhibit’s panel text and dig deeper into the 50+ stories referenced.

Note: Due to the resurgence of the coronavirus, the exhibit’s presentation was not shown as scheduled on Aug 13, 2021 at the California African American Museum. We will keep you advised as to when it will be shown. 

Body of Work