Updated at 11:42 p.m. on Feb. 28.
“What [does it mean] to be separate, to be denied, to be forgotten, to be neglected, to be considered the un-aesthetic?”
These are the questions that Bryn Evans, CC ’21, posed in her artist’s statement and sought to answer in her curation of “The Darkroom,” one of several events she organized along with Amiri Tulloch, CC ’22, Shernelle Thomas, GS ’18, and Colby King, SEAS ’22 as members of Columbia University’s Black History Month arts programming team. Reflecting on the inspirations that drew her to the role, the 20-year-old Georgia native shared that using art as a means of expression is not new to her.
Evans first realized her passion for the arts in her childhood through writing and dance, with her participation in the latter spanning 14 years. Yet Evans, who is now an African-American studies and art history double major at Columbia, credits Dr. Kalia Brooks’ “Intro to African American Studies” class as her motivation to pursue art curation specifically, a practice she now leads for Black History Month. She noted that visiting museums through Brooks’ class was key to igniting her interest in art curation.
“I think visiting art exhibitions, particularly ones that showcased the work of Black artists and were curated by Black curators, was a very interesting thing to me, and I could really picture myself doing this.”
Evans’ first step in turning that vision into reality was working on the arts programming team of Columbia’s Black History Month committee. This team, comprised of Evans, Tulloch, Thomas, and King—and assisted by advisors and other committee members—, worked to execute two projects during the month of February: the Black Womanhood in Zines workshop, in collaboration with Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters, and “The Darkroom” exhibition themed “NEGATIVE SPACE: The Black Un-Aesthetic.”
In curating the exhibition, which was made up of works by close to 20 undergraduate artists, Evans aimed to draw attention to an “overlooked” aspect of Blackness.
“With ‘The Darkroom’ exhibition—and with this year’s theme, ‘NEGATIVE SPACE’—my main intention was to bring to light an aspect of Blackness that is largely overlooked in conversations surrounding Black History Month, she said. “The ugliness, the pain, the body, the scars; what it means to highlight that and to give it a platform to be analyzed in a critical space, to be analyzed critically in an academic space.”
Furthermore, Evans was determined to bring the theme “NEGATIVE SPACE” to life and harness the term to “the fullest extent possible.” This goal was partly achieved through the selection of Barnard’s Sulzberger Parlor as the location to display Black art.
“‘NEGATIVE SPACE’ is in the idea that in a room that was designed to house these portraits of white women, past Barnard presidents and founders, and we are using this space, and we are changing it,” Evans said. “We’re bringing to light the problems in that history and who is left out in that history, and kind of usurping it by having our Black art be what is supposed to be seen, what is supposed to be showcased, despite the fact that it was never intended to do that.”
In addition, Evans set out to showcase the sheer talent of Black artists at Columbia. Her desire to see more Black artists supported is complemented by her belief in the importance of art to the Black community.
“I think in general to me, Black people have been able to find a soul in their art, they’ve been able to find a voice in their art, they’ve been able to find an outlet to express what they have been forcibly told [to silence] in their art,” Evans said. “It’s always been a way to express themselves.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized Evans’ reasoning behind the theme of the exhibition and incorrectly identified her as the sole leader of Columbia University’s Black History Month arts programming team. It also included a number of syntactical errors regarding the name of the exhibition. Spectator regrets these errors.