Saturday, December 28, 2019

'Blak Origin Moment' Exhibition at Hunter Museum Explores Distortions of Black Male Identity
December 28th, 2019
by Lisa Denton

Photo from the artist / "Passing Escape of Michael Brown" is an Epson transfer and monoprint on altered Ebony pages by artist Noel W. Anderson. The work references the unarmed teenager shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

In his exhibition at the Hunter Museum of American Art, Noel W. Anderson attempts to weave a new narrative in the African-American experience, particularly the evolution of black male identity.

His focus is clear in the name of the show, "Blak Origin Moment."

All three words are symbolic for Anderson, but the appropriated spelling of "black" is particularly notable. As the exhibition guide explains: "Blak redefines — and reclaims — the word 'black,' which has been historically used by the dominant culture as a disempowering term. 'Blak' can be applied in new, more inclusive ways, reflective of its meaning."

The exhibition, which continues through Jan. 12, includes a variety of recent works by Anderson, from erased Ebony magazine pages to woven jacquard tapestries. Anderson often uses textile as a medium. Using found imagery from television, magazines and other media and archives, he manipulates and distorts the original pictures, then weaves them into his signature tapestries.

The works are made all the more compelling by the deep and double meanings associated with his methods and themes.

The concept of "weaving," for example, describes not only the interlacing of threads to form a fabric, but the making or telling of a complex story. "Erase" can mean taking away or rubbing out a line or mark, as an artist might, or the removal of all traces of thought, feeling or memory, which has societal implications.

If you go
* What: “Blak Origin Moment” by Noel W. Anderson

* When: Through Jan. 12 (museum is closed New Year’s Day and will close early, at 3 p.m., on New Year’s Eve)

* Where: Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View

* Admission: $20 (free to youths 17 and younger)

* Phone: 423-267-0968

* Online:

In a visit to Chattanooga for the opening of the exhibition and an Art Wise artist lecture, Anderson explained his intent was "to play with the stereotype of stereotypes associated with black masculinity."

His artist statement elaborates: "I focus on African-American males because I am one. I am not satisfied with what I see in the world in terms of the limited vision of what African-American men are or are supposed to be. I want to encourage new, more diverse visions of what it can mean to be an African-American man."

"Hands-Up," one of his works, focuses on four iconic examples of upraised hands, which he calls "a series of gestures qualified in black existence."

About the show’s title

› Blak “redefines — and reclaims — the word ‘black,’ which has been historically used by the dominant culture as a disempowering term. ‘Blak’ can be applied in new, more inclusive ways, reflective of its meaning.”

› Origin “is an investigation of ‘otherness,’ of knowing when you were different. Anderson explores the origin, or starting point, when he began to identify as a black male and all the complexities that carries.”

› Moment references experiences and how “important moments in our lives can shift how we feel or act. These ‘origin moments’ change our perspective of ourselves or others.”

They include a stylized hand from traditional African sculpture, an anonymous man in handcuffs, the raised left hand of Martin Luther King Jr. and a jumble of hands outstretched at the Million Man March in 1995.

"Black Lives Matter," he reminded his Art Wise audience, "did not invent hands up."

Cara McGowan, director of marketing and communications for the museum, said works titled "Escapism," "Invagination" and "Die Leitung" have evoked the most responses from visitors.

About the artist, Noel W. Anderson
* Born in 1981.

* Native of Louisville, Kentucky.

* Works as an assistant professor at New York University’s Art and Art Professions Department in print media.

* Holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ohio Wesleyan University, Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from Indiana University and Master of Fine Arts (sculpting) from Yale University.

The massive "Die Leitung," which stretches 13 feet wide, depicts a black-and-white image, presumably from a 1960s-era newspaper, showing a lineup of black men being forcibly strip-searched by armed policemen. Anderson has manipulated the image so that the men's bare legs are blurred, distorting the rest of the image.

"I believe images have meanings that can change if you change their circumstances," Anderson said during his Art Wise program.

McGowan said Anderson has led two programs at the museum during the run of the show.

"Both appearances probably had more diverse, younger crowds than we usually get for artist talks," she said.

Save the date
* Thursday, Jan. 2: Throwback Thursday, 4-8 p.m. View the permanent collection free of charge and tour the special exhibit, "Blak Origin Moment," for $5.

* Thursday, Jan. 9: Blak Origin Moment: Healing, 6-7 p.m. Healing and self-care program with meditation led by Anthony M. Wiley, dance by Im-age No-vek, performance by C-Grimey and encouragement by Marie R. Mott. Free.

* Sunday, Jan. 12: Final day of "Blak Origin Moment," noon-5 p.m.

While the museum strives to "broadly represent the American art scene," she said, "choosing to exhibit living artists can be particularly resonant because their work is obviously informed by our own times."

Visitor response to the show has been positive, she said, with comments noting the "honest, fearless creative expression dealing with black oppression" and the "unflinching" nature of the exhibition.

"I'm trying to give us a new way of seeing things and have no fear. No fear," Anderson told his Art Wise audience.

Contact Lisa Denton at or 423-757-6281.

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