Race and democracy are the focus for artists at Kent photo exhibition


Yasmeen Matthews

Photographer Asha Blake’s submissions to the Race & Democracy: A Photovoice Project Exhibition in the Uumbaji Gallery of Oscar Ritchie Hall on Jan. 26, 2023.

Irene Bowser, Reporter

Eleven featured photos were displayed at the Uumbaji Gallery in Oscar Ritchie Hall Thursday from eight artists, all with different backgrounds and ideas shown through their work.

The Growing Democracy Project hosted “Race and Democracy: A Photovoice Project,” where community members submitted photos that represented their stories.

Dr. Shemariah Arki, director of the Center of Pan-African Culture in the Africana Studies Department, gives the closing remarks to visitors of the gallery on Jan. 26, 2023. (Yasmeen Matthews)

Paige Scott, the Growing Democracy Project research assistant and exhibit co-organizer and curator, selected photos through an open submission.

Shemariah Arki, who co-organized the project, is the director of the Center of Pan-African Culture in the Africana Studies Department. She said the exhibit is a way for people across the community to identify themselves by sharing personal stories.

Asha Blake, a recent Kent State graduate, featured four photos displayed in the gallery. Three of her photos were displayed together on a wall in the center of the gallery. Her fourth photo was to the left on an adjacent wall.

Each piece of Blake’s art represented different political ideas she felt were important to acknowledge for Black Americans today.

One of the photos showed a Black man at a protest in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Another showed a Black woman with a T-shirt reading, “I am an American” at the polls on Election Day in 2022. A third photo showed a Black man who held a T-shirt reading, “I HOPE I DON’T GET KILLED FOR BEING BLACK TODAY,”’ in response to police brutality against Black America.

“Black people helped build America, and this wall signifies being Black in America today,” Blake said.

Blake’s fourth photo showed her grandmother, Audrey Dhyll, who immigrated to America, sitting and laughing with family.

Dhyll didn’t know Asha’s photo of her would be featured in the gallery. She said this surprise was the best representation of love, family and home.

Artist Marquis Davis, also a Kent State alumnus, displayed a self portrait of himself crying, which prompted discussion from viewers. He took the photo after George Floyd’s death and shared an emotional journey of facing vulnerability as a Black man after seeing the video of Floyd’s cry for help.

Davis wanted this photo to encourage Black men to share emotions and cry because it does not subtract from masculinity or manhood.

“We were facing two different pandemics: racism and the pandemic,” Davis said. “Tears are pure, tears can cleanse. Vulnerability equals strength.”

Irene Bowser is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].