For me, vintage photographs and postcards of black people embody a powerful act of reclamation—an assertion of dignity, pride, and beauty in the face of negative stereotypes. They become beacons of representation, challenging the narrow narratives that have confined black individuals to throughout history. By celebrating these artifacts, we not only honor the subjects captured within their frames but also contribute to a collective reclaiming of our identity. It is an act of empowerment, a declaration that our stories matter and our contributions are worthy of recognition.
These photographs are often in direct contradiction to vintage postcards that depict Black people in derogatory ways--here in Florida, they are often seen taunting alligators, riding them, being chased by them.
My pieces, like Red Chairs, offer different stories of the beach. In my paintings, Black people freely enjoy the beach, much in the way I did growing up in Jamaica. They relax, they play, they swim, they gather. In other words: they are there.
Creating a painting featuring black people at the beach was a deeply layered experience that brought me both pleasure and pain. On one hand, the process of depicting the joy, beauty, and freedom of black individuals in a beach setting filled me with immense pleasure. The vibrant colors of the ocean, the warmth of the sun, and the carefree spirit of the figures portrayed on the canvas brought forth a sense of celebration and liberation.
However, intertwined with the pleasure was a recognition of the painful history and ongoing struggles faced by Black people. The beach, as a symbol of leisure and relaxation, has often been an environment where racial discrimination and inequality persist. The painful memories of segregated beaches, limited access, and the exclusion of Black individuals from recreational spaces is often on my mind when I paint.
By juxtaposing the pleasurable and painful aspects, my intention was to create a nuanced representation that acknowledges the complexities of the Black experience. My paintings are a reflection of the resilience and strength that black individuals have demonstrated in navigating spaces that were historically denied to them. By depicting black people at the beach with authenticity and dignity, I aim to reclaim a sense of ownership and agency over these environments that were once marred by exclusion and discrimination. My previous series, Right to Swim, began this exploration and I continue it in my latest work that is in my upcoming exhibition: "Water: Soul of the Earth."
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