By Bernie Petit
For its 40th anniversary, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture wants to continue its conversations with the community.
The ongoing dialogue includes last season’s “Question Bridge: Black Males” exhibit, which explored issues facing the black male community.
It continues with “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness,” the new exhibition that examines the long-standing impact of colonialism on societal attitudes that define black culture in America.
“I was asked this question about what’s next for the center and what kind of role would the center continue to play,” said Gantt Center President David Taylor.
With its latest exhibition, the center shows it will continue to be a leader in helping the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community have uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations.
It’s what the Gantt Center (founded as the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center in 1974 and renamed after Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first African-American mayor, in 2009) has done for the last four decades.
“Few cities have the privilege of prominent, public spaces that have existed for 40 years to celebrate the black experience,” Taylor said. “The Gantt Center proudly holds that distinction for Charlotte.”
“Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness” does more than celebrate the black experience – it challenges viewers to critically think about how black identity has often been defined by others.
It does so through the work of guest curator Rehema Barber and nearly 20 national and international artists of the African diaspora, or the communities throughout the world descended from the historic movement of peoples from Africa.
The exhibit, Barber said, was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” It explores the history that shaped prevailing views about African-Americans – such as the “Magical Negro” (think the 2000 Will Smith film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) and fallout from the Paula Deen controversy – and how those views played out in mainstream society.
“I was paying attention to a lot of things that were happening every day,” Barber said. “And so I said I really want to talk about people’s perceptions of black culture or black identity – how things influence that perception. Not so much about black identity as a whole, but this idea that there are things that sort of influence how we construct or how we perceive black identity.”
The perception of African-Americans, Barber said, is a conglomerate of ideas originated in the days of colonialism.
This exhibition, she said, is “about coming to the realization that we all have the power to define who we are for ourselves.”
Venture “Out of the Heart of Darkness”
The exhibition “Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness” runs through June 26, 2015, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts, 551 S. Tryon St., Charlotte. For more information, visit www.ganttcenter.org.