The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
By Alexys Taylor, Gantt Center
The mood is set, the lights are dim, and the cool air reminds you of a movie theater. As the space draws you in, there is a sense of gravity but at the same time a feeling of comfort. To the right are three projectors with the faces of black men in silence, looking at the viewers. As you look straight ahead, there are benches that face five television screens. The screens switch from black male to black male as they each answer the question that is being posed. The sound is loud and clear. When you step into the gallery, most likely you are caught in the middle of a response or a question. But you don’t feel that you’ve missed something, it always seems as if you’ve fallen right into place. You have now entered the world of Question Bridge: Black Males. Question Bridge: Black Males creators Bayeté Ross Smith and Chris Johnson.
This transmedia exhibition is a simple and powerful tool that explores the Black male identity in America and the challenging issues within the community through conversations. These 160 black men — who come from various age groups and geographic, economic, and educational backgrounds — serve as the interviewers and interviewees. Through simple conversation, each visitor who watches this significant exhibition has the opportunity to further understand some of the culture, both good and bad, of black males in America. It also shows the uniqueness of each black male as they express their personality and share their stories through the answers that they give. The exhibition highlights the diversity of black males within their own culture and breaks down universal stereotypes that may cloud the viewer’s mind about this group.
Understanding different cultures serves as a tool of connectivity; a bridge between our perceived world and that of another cultural community. This exhibition is real, with real life questions that often do not come up in conversation because we might be too afraid or may feel too uncomfortable to ask. While sitting in the exhibition, you are often hit with the “realness” of it all as you listen to the questions being asked and answered. What is interesting, however, is that Question Bridge: Black Males connects with each viewer.
Sometimes we need to get smacked in the face by reality to further understand other cultures, which in turn makes us question our own. With questioning often comes understanding. More often than not, you will leave the exhibition with a better appreciation and even understanding of the diversity of black males, and also a clearer understanding of yourself and your culture. Although this exhibition features black males, it actually represents all of us, all of humanity. In the end, we realize that through difference we have a chance to find similarities and gain understanding of ourselves and of others.