Perception, Perspective, and Vantage

In the most recent weeks, I have been working towards creating a virtual tour about Louis through the voices and perspectives of women in his life, along with Maglyn Bertrand, who is also serving as a museum fellow. While exploring this topic, the concept in many ways keeps offering parallels to some of the artwork I focused on earlier this year. The common theme of these pieces were about the perception of the black man in our world. Questions through artwork asking the viewer how “they” are seen, understood, and even interacted with. My search for these answers are of course depicted from the vantage of a woman, as I myself am the author of the artworks. For me, as Maglyn and I tell the story of Louis through the voices of women, we bring a parallel that hits home for me in how I see the Black Man in the world. In the case of the virtual tours, both Maglyn and myself are women sifting through comments and experiences from other prominent women in Louis’ life, as we attempt to tell a story layered in differing perspectives of the same story. In some ways I feel it has opened an avenue to tackle a question I’ve been struggling with since the beginning of this year: understanding how the black man is seen in the world.

My inquisitive nature on this subject derives from my personal experiences and my desperation to make sense of these figures in my life. My life, similar to Louis’, was empowered by a matriarchal environment. Louis and his younger sister Beatrice, also known as Mama Lucy, shared the experience of women leading their way. Although they grew up about nine decades before myself, my own story includes my mother, grandmother and various aunts who took turns caring for my two older brothers and myself. As I listened to a fragment of an interview with Mama Lucy, she describes moments of her and Louis’ youth. 

Mama Lucy (Beatrice) in conversation with Yoshio Toyomo

I began to reminisce on my own experiences playing the younger sister role to my own brothers. At this point all the thoughts, emotions, questions that had initially filled my mind at the start of the year came rushing back and offered me the inspiration to explore the concept in another way, a Louis Armstrong way, through archival material. 

Portrait of Louis, Mayann and Beatrice “Mama Lucy” Armstrong taken in New Orleans c. 1920.

In my last post entitled “Representation,”  I began to explore these archives unknowingly in the same search, but without the question being asked. There is a quote from a letter sent to W.E.B. DuBios, where a white professor searched to “understand” the emotions of “colored people,” written in 1905, far before my recent 2020 search for answers. This letter is about how the black man is perceived in the world which reinforces my research this year. It is here to tell a story of the perception of the black man through images and the emotions that are evoked through them, with a very specific vantage: the black woman.

The search for emotive photographs was relatively easy, as Louis Armstrong evokes a range of expressions on and off the stage. But, what’s my story? I immediately was drawn to a few quick sketches I have done of my brothers and some close male friends earlier this year. Even decades apart as I start to filter through these I notice the similarities to how Louis was seen and how I see these men today.

For a moment, I felt like Mama Lucy in one of her interviews about Louis’s life when I realized my wonder of how black men are perceived in the world possibly can be explained from my observation as an adolescent of life with my older brothers. I related to her story with my own, because I walk in a black woman’s skin everyday and how I see black men is sometimes curated and crafted for me. My art reminds me the same way that Louis’ archives do that I create my own perception of people and the black man is one that is ever changing, ever growing and steeped in history. So now, as we complete the tour through the eyes of these women in Louis’ life, I can remind those on this journey that these are singular perceptions, perspectives and vantage points of one man that happens to be black. 

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