Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Question Bridge: Black Males’ challenges the American consciousness

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The University Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Fine Arts Center on the campus of the University of Massachusetts, is currently exhibiting “Question Bridge: Black Males,” a “five-channel video installation that aims to represent and redefine black male identity in America.” Challenging the American media’s perception of black men, “Question Bridge” taps into the diverse nature of consciousness, character and identity.

The exhibition is a timely project that ties in with the exhibition that UMCA held a few years ago, “Du Bois in Our Time,” which centered on the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois and the causes he championed as a civil rights activist. UMass has been planning this newest exhibition for a year.

“We have shown art with social justice content before and we believe that such art is an important contribution to our contemporary awareness,” said UMCA curator of education Eva Fierst, who is overseeing the exhibition.

The artists, Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, collected over 1,600 Q&A videos from more than 150 men recorded between 2008 and 2011.

Running on a three-hour loop, the consistent humor, vulnerability and compelling honesty of “Question Bridge” immediately welcome viewers participating at any point during its movement. Armed with an intimate dialogue between subject and viewer, these videos redefine the simple, overarching concept of blackness in America.

“It’s a unique opportunity for the UMass audience,” said Samantha Henry, a UMass senior studying theater. “It’s an educational first-person point of view that is often difficult to get otherwise.”

The videos are a multifaceted, unabridged social investigation toward a self-conscious manhood, which Du Bois wrote is “able to merge into a better and truer self.” Each of these men reflect individual personas that span the American demographic including: queer, straight, urban, rural, elderly and young.

The subjects dissect basic stereotypes such as the type of food black males like to eat. They ask questions such as, “What do you see when you wake up in the morning?” They also consider issues such as the collision of black masculinity with varying sexualities.

“The exhibition really demonstrates how different their imaginations are,” said Matt Crawford, a UMass sophomore studying English and theater.

“It’s amazing how they have so many different thoughts on one subject,” said David Tuttle, a sophomore computer science and theater major.

“It illustrates individuality in our culture,” added Sevrin Willinder, who is also a computer science and theater major.

According to the UMCA “Question Bridge” pamphlet, one mission of the exhibition is to reconstruct black male identity by “getting large numbers of black men to participate in the effort.”

This objective is accelerated through the exhibition’s interactive digital experience currently provided in one room at UMCA. Anyone visiting the museum is invited into this room to answer several questions rarely discussed in public. This project is allocated on a computer and participants may spend however long they like on their discussions. They can expand their dialogue on the “Question Bridge” app, available for free on iTunes.

“Voices from all communities can become a part of the national dialogue,” the pamphlet states.

“The interviews do not need to coincide with the exhibition but can be used independently,” Fierst added. “The exhibition is the starting-off point for conversations and discussions.”

This cutting-edge technology component of the exhibition engages an opportunity for what is at its core an expanding art: a “living archive” embodying educational discourse, community engagement and a deeper understanding of the black male demographic historically and continuously discriminated against.

“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,” said the artists in their statement on the exhibition.

Nearby, another room at UMCA is sectioned for groups to discuss the purposes of the exhibition with one another. Visitors may keep several different documents exploring identity and self-representation. This includes teachers’ guides, an identity map, worksheets and a full calendar of spring 2016 Pioneer Valley arts events that utilize collective creative activism to examine legacy and community. This room also provides a space for visitors to leave sticky-notes on their thoughts and reactions to “Question Bridge.”

“Get to know someone who’s not like you,” one note read.

“Not enough has been done to represent a multi-faceted and self-determined representation of this demographic,” continued the artists’ statement. “Ultimately Black males’ greatest challenges are with themselves. The question is, ‘Why?’”

The UMCA is running “Question Bridge: Black Males” until May 1. The UMCA is collaborating on this project with Deerfield Academy’s von Auersperg Gallery in the Hess Center for the Arts.

Rachel Ravelli can be reached at [email protected].

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    Faye AFeb 4, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Can the info be published of visiting hours and if there is a fee to come to it?
    It seems that the community would benefit from this.