Seattle Foundation Blog

Celebrating Black History Through Local Artists

Event and exhibit shares the power of black creativity in our community


February 26, 2019

Guests view The American History Museum

Seattle Foundation is hosting an art installation in our exhibit space featuring the work of museum founder Delbert Richardson and photographer Jessica Rycheal.

Richardson is the founder of the award-winning American History Traveling Museum: The "Unspoken" Truths, which utilizes authentic artifacts, storyboards and storytelling to teach American history and educate participants of all ages.

Rycheal is exhibiting portraits from her first museum exhibition, "EVERYDAY BLACK." Recently featured at the Northwest African American Museum, Rycheal's images explore the depth and humanity of Blackness in predominately-white Seattle with an intimacy that makes her subjects feel familiar.

Their work will be on display through Friday, March 22, at Seattle Foundation’s offices, 1601 Fifth Avenue, 19th floor. We are open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Celebrating Black History

Guests mingle in the gallery

At an event to celebrate their work and Black History Month on Feb. 21, Senior Philanthropic Advisor Cedric Davis shared the importance of lifting up Black history together.

“Every year in the United States, the month of February is set aside to recognize the numerous contributions made by people of African descent,” Davis said. “We selected these artists because their works project a full perspective of our journey from the continent of Africa to today in a way that evokes pride, dignity, tragedy and triumph.”

Hasaan Kirkland, curator at the Northwest African American Museum, said it’s important to continue celebrating beyond Black History Month, learning “how we can exist together, ultimately creating a culture that allows for one another to be able to be celebrated.”

Re-teaching American History

Richardson noted that 2019 is the quad-centennial of slavery; in 1619, the first enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of Virginia. Among the notable artifacts Richardson displayed for the evening were authentic shackles and branding irons used to control and dehumanize slaves.

“When we call it Black history, there are some who feel it doesn’t pertain to them. When we call it African American history, they want to take a pass – ‘Ain’t nothing to do with me,’” he said. “When we call it American history, it makes it all inclusive.”

Richardson said his mission is about re-educating people in four areas: the origins of Black Americans in mother Africa; the institution of slavery in America; the succeeding Jim Crow laws that made Black Americans second class citizens; and the innovative inventions and designs of African Americans, including the ironing board, cell phone technology and a pencil sharpener.

He connects the dots between the four parts of his collection: “African is who I am and invention is what I’m capable of accomplishing, and slavery and Jim Crow had two things in mind: to keep me from who I am and what I can accomplish,” Richardson said.

Art and Black Resilience

Rycheal, an art director at Amazon, said she began taking photographs as a way to connect with people. And when she moved from small town Macon, Georgia, to Seattle, taking pictures was a way to meet new people. The way I approach photography is I don’t ask anyone to be anything other than who they are in that moment when they step in front of my camera,” she said. 

Rycheal’s work captures that authenticity and celebrates Black resilience in daily life.

"Too much of what we see in the media is empty stereotypes of Black culture or what is being done to the Black community, Rycheal said. “It’s not often that we hear about Blackness being triumphant, it’s not often that we hear about Blackness being full of joy, it’s not often that be hear about Blackness being quirky, or being weird, or artsy, or emo or goth,” she said. “Blackness is all of these things that everybody else is.”

Exhibit of children's shackles from slave ships

A Commitment to Racial Equity

Jonathan Cunningham, Program Officer in Community Programs, shared how the Foundation is supporting Black-led organizations, including through our new Creative Equity Fund, which invested $200,000 in grants to 14 organizations to combat structural racism through arts and culture strategies. The Northwest African American Museum is a Creative Equity Fund grantee.

“I promise you we have a very sincere commitment to racial equity. It’s reflected in what you see tonight, it’s reflected in the art you see, it’s reflected in how we communicate with each other,” he said. “This is a reflection of where we are as an organization and where we hope to continue to grow.”

 

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