The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM) presents Question Bridge: Black Males that opens on Saturday, September 13, 2014. FWM will host a public reception on Thursday, October 2, 2014 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Question Bridge aims to represent and redefine black male identity in America, and powerfully exposes the incredible diversity of thought, character, and identity within the black American male demographic, disrupting traditional generalizations.
This project created by Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair explores challenging issues within the black male community by instigating a transmedia conversation across the geographic, economic, generational, educational, and social divisions of American society. These artists collected more than 1,600 question and answer videos from over 150 men across the country between 2008-2011. The conversation that is created brings about healing and understanding among group members, but when it’s shared publicly, understanding happens on a broader scale: non-black viewers are exposed to complex and authentic images of black males rarely seen in American media. The hope is that this exposure will help break down the many negative perceptions people have about black men. Johnson, Thomas, Ross Smith, and Sinclair shaped the content into an insightful, provocative, and entertaining five-channel video installation that has been exhibited at over 30 museums, festivals, and institutions.
From the beginning, the goal of the project has been to represent and redefine black male identity by getting large numbers of black men to participate in the effort. So, starting in September 2014, Question Bridge will embark on a campaign of getting 200,000 black males to add their voices through the website and mobile app by summer 2016. This exhibition at FWM is joined by 7 other exhibitions appearing across the country in the fall of 2014.
Question Bridge: Black Males is a fiscally sponsored project of the Bay Area Video Coalition (a 501c3 not-for-profit organization) and supported in part by a grant from the Open Society Institute: Campaign for Black Male Achievement, The California Endowment, The Ford Foundation, The Tribeca Film Institute, the LEF Foundation, The Center for Cultural Innovation, Nathan Cummings Foundation and the California College of the Arts. The project was supported by the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab.
This is a critical period in history for the African American community. In recent years, many have been able to transcend racial, cultural and economic boundaries while others have found themselves increasingly confined to the margins of society. African American men are particularly challenged by this paradox. A black man is the President of the United States, yet black men are still severely overrepresented in incarceration and high school dropout rates, and suffer disproportionately from various preventable health risks and as victims of homicide.
The representation and depiction of black males in popular culture has long been governed by prevailing stereotyped attitudes about race and sexuality. Far too little is known about the range of internal values and dynamics of this group. Scientists, social scientists, theorists, historians, politicians and activists have investigated the plight of the African American male on various levels and from diverse perspectives, yet not enough has been done to represent a multi-faceted and self-determined representation of this demographic. Ultimately Black males’ greatest challenges are with themselves. The question is, “why?”
Question Bridge: Black Males opens a window onto the complex and often unspoken dialogue among African American men, creating an intimate and essentially genuine experience for viewers and subjects and providing new opportunities for understanding and healing. 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.
Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair