Sons: Seeing the Modern African-American Black Male

When you see a Black man in his late teens or early 20s dressed in a hoodie, Jordans and a baseball cap, what judgment calls do you make about him?

What if you saw this same young man dressed in his Sunday best? Is your perception the same or did it change?

Challenging perceptions of Black men is what the new exhibit, “Sons: Seeing the Modern African-American Male” at Central Library is all about. The exhibit, which opens Oct. 5, isn’t just about challenging white people to check their preconceived notions about Black men; it requires the same of African-Americans as well. Each man featured in the exhibit has two photos on display. One photo is nondescript, allowing the viewer to surmise who the man is. The man says who he is or wants to become in the other image.

“You have to reconcile who you thought the guy would be with who he really is,” artist Jerry Taliaferro said. “The exhibit is more about those who come to the exhibit than those who are in it. It’s not a white person thing or Black person thing, it’s a human person thing. We all do it. We immediately put this person in a category.”

The exhibit features 30 local men. Sixty men were nominated for the exhibit, and the selection committee had the difficult task of whittling it down to 30. Some of the men are local public figures and others are men who aren’t known but are equally important, as they are good, family-oriented, hard-working men, said Cordia Watkins, chairperson for the African-American History Committee for Indianapolis Public Library.

“Young, old, professional, unprofessional, known and unknown,” Watkins said. “Some that … yeah their stories started out with a bad childhood, and (now) they’re doing positive things in the community.”

The traveling exhibit is patterned after a previous exhibit Taliaferro did on Black women titled, “Women of a New Tribe.” Planning for the exhibit began a year ago, and Taliaferro photographed the men in the spring. 

In conjunction with the exhibit opening, noted author Kevin Powell will be a special guest. Powell was among of the first group of cast members of MTV’s “The Real World” now known as “The Real World: New York.” He is the author of 13 books and will present a free lecture to discuss the exhibit at noon Oct. 6.

Contact Editor Oseye Boyd at 317-762-7850. Follow her on Twitter @oseye_boyd.

Challenge yourself

"Sons: Seeing the Modern African-American Male" challenges the viewer to be honest about perceptions of Black men by showing the same man from two different perspectives — one nondescript, allowing the viewer to decide who the man is, and the other from the man’s point of view on who he is.

The exhibit opens 6-9 p.m. Oct. 5 at Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St. Special guest author Kevin Powell will attend the grand opening. 

Powell will present a lecture about the exhibit at noon Oct. 6 at Central Library. Powell will sign books after speaking. His appearance is part of his “Education of Us Tour,” which empowers and engages communities about issues affecting people today.

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