Black Joy, in Spite of . . .
April 5–September 2, 2024

Unknown photographer. Three Boys (Unidentified) at Belle Meade Plantation, ca. 1865. Courtesy of the archives at Belle Meade Historic Site and Winery
Tamia Spinks. A Trip to the Beach, 2022. Oil on canvas; 60 x 50 x 1 3/8 in. Courtesy of the artist

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (February 26, 2024)—The Frist Art Museum presents Black Joy, in Spite of . . . , an exhibition of historical photographs of Tennesseans paired with art of the present day. Organized by guest curator Brigette Janea Jones, the exhibition will be on view in the always-free Conte Community Arts Gallery from April 5 through September 2, 2024.

Through this project, Jones, a historian, nonprofit executive, and public speaker, seeks to offer a more three-dimensional picture of the Black American experience by focusing on moments of joy despite a history of pain and struggle. Black Joy, in Spite of . . . showcases photographs of enslaved people and their descendants taken throughout the three geographical regions of Tennessee during various periods, including enslavement, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, the crack era, and more.

To connect the past with the present, Jones invited young artists throughout the state to submit artworks that express their own interpretations of Black people resisting harm and embarking on the eternal journey to Black joy. Jones and two local artists, TC and Joseph Patrick, served as jurors. “The selected images capture scenes of family connection, friendship, pride, and resistance that highlight the humanity of each individual and counter the more common focus on trauma,” writes Jones. “Seen together, the works show Black Tennesseans having the audacity to be happy amid and in the aftermath of slavery, an institution that was designed to break them.”

Organized chronologically and thematically, each of the nine sections presents ways that Black Americans have kept joy alive despite historical and contemporary barriers and injustices. Responding to the works of art, Jones wrote a poetic narrative that is carried throughout the installation. For example, “In Spite of Enslavement . . . Black Joy Is Peace” features a historical photograph (ca. 1865) of three unidentified boys on the Belle Meade Stud Farm and Plantation in Nashville, while University of Chattanooga student Tamia Spinks’s painting A Trip to the Beach (2022) depicts a tender moment between a mother and her child at rest on the beach.

Under the title “In Spite of Subjugation . . . Black Joy is Free,” a proud class of 1891 graduates, all women, pose in the photograph Kortrecht High School, first graduating class. Today, the school stands as Booker T. Washington High School (and is also seen elsewhere in the exhibition in Mark Humphrey’s 2011 photograph of President Barack Obama visiting the school). Freddie Louis Calhoun 3rd’s two photographs of Tennessee State University graduates (2023), both titled Educated Beauty, are meant to pay tribute to the school’s notable women graduates, including Oprah Winfrey, Wilma Rudolph, and Dr. Glenda Glover.

Ernest C. Withers. The WDIA Twins, 1948. Courtesy of the Withers Family Trust. © Dr. Ernest C. Withers, Sr

Elsewhere in the exhibition are works by Xavier Payne whose Black City 2 (2022) speaks to the creative authenticity and output that public housing communities can foster despite many challenges. Ashley Mintz says that her mixed media work Storyteller (2021) was inspired by her great-grandmother who instilled in her the importance of storytelling through generations. “Oral tradition is popular in many cultures, but it is especially prevalent in African American culture due to the fact that slaves could not learn to read or write. Storytelling through talking or singing was the way to remember things, share secret messages, and share traditions,” writes Mintz.

Ashley Mintz. Storyteller, 2021. Mixed media on canvas (acrylic, scrap papers, book pages and lace); 40 x 30 x 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist

Jones writes, “As a socio-cultural historian, I’ve had the opportunity to examine the arc of the Black American experience beginning with enslavement and connect it to who and how Black Americans are today. Despite numerous hurdles and roadblocks, Black Americans have still managed to embody an intangible sense of joy and peace.”

About the guest curator, Brigette Janea Jones

Brigette JonesBrigette Janea Jones is the founder of Bridge Builders Historical Consulting LLC, a research and interpretive resource for museums and other nonprofit institutions that focuses on empathetic cultural remembrance, and the assistant executive director of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Before she took on these roles, Jones served as director of equitable partnerships for Belle Meade Historic Site and Winery and curator of social history for the Tennessee State Museum. Her work has concentrated on the social histories of the diverse cultures that inhabit Tennessee, including African American history, Latino history, Native American history, and Middle Eastern American history. She also studies the legacy and ongoing ramifications of enslavement in Tennessee and surrounding areas and the need for reparative action as it relates to American Descendants of Enslavement.

Jones was born and raised in Memphis and holds a bachelor of arts degree from the historically Black Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2019, she gained certification through the National Association of Interpretation and the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to be an official interpreter of the African American experience.

Exhibition Credit

Black Joy, in Spite of . . . is organized by the Frist Art Museum with guest curator Brigette Janea Jones.

Supporter Acknowledgment

Presenting Sponsor: HCA Healthcare/TriStar Health

Supported in part by Truist Foundation and the Frist Art Museum Benefactors’ Circle

The Frist Art Museum is supported in part by The Frist Foundation, Metro Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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