Press \\ Press Release
New Exhibition at PEM Celebrates Black Community, Identity and Power
Released May 1, 2023
As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic
On view June 17 through December 31, 2023
SALEM, MA – The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) invites visitors to explore a compelling compilation of photographs from African diasporic culture. Organized by Aperture, curated by Elliott Ramsey and drawn from Dr. Kenneth Montague’s Wedge Collection, a Black-owned photography collection originating in Toronto, As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic looks at the myriad experiences of Black life through the lenses of community, identity and power. The exhibition, which makes its U.S. debut at PEM, is on view from June 17 through December 31, 2023, and features more than 100 works by Black artists from Canada, the Caribbean, Great Britain, the United States and South America, as well as throughout the African continent.
“In this exhibition, Black subjects are depicted by Black photographers and presented as they wish to be seen, recognizing the complex strength, beauty and vulnerability of Black life,” says Stephanie Tung, PEM’s Byrne Family Curator of Photography. “This powerful collection brings together iconic photographs, rare images, and new works from across continents and over decades. It centers the familial and the familiar, celebrating distinctive expressions of individuality as well as the spirit of community.”
At PEM, As We Rise is arranged like a song, with themes and variations that intersect and merge, forming rhythms and cadences. The voices of writers, critics, and community members join the collector in chorus as they consider the relationship of photography to ideas of recognition and belonging. “From the 1930s’ Harlem Renaissance, through post-colonial Bamako, to contemporary Toronto, As We Rise celebrates the polyphony of Black life — and the nuanced approaches of Black photographers in representing these scenes of love, leisure, and resistance,” adds organizing curator, Elliott Ramsey.
Featuring a global diaspora, the artists in the exhibition range from Vanley Burke, who focuses on London’s Jamaican community to explore the legacy of colonialism, to Lebohang Kganye, who interrogates her relationship with her mother through a superimposed image of herself over an image from her own family album. Artists such as Texas Isaiah, Liz Johnson Artur, Seydou Keïta, Deana Lawson, Jamel Shabazz and Carrie Mae Weems touch on themes of agency, beauty, joy and belonging. Writings by Isolde Brielmaier, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Mark Sealy, Teka Selman and Deborah Willis, among others, provide insight and commentary on the significance of this collection.
The title As We Rise is borrowed from a phrase that Dr. Montague’s father would often invoke: “Lifting as we rise.” Dr. Montague started his photography collection, known as the Wedge Collection, in 1997 to acquire and exhibit art that explores Black identity. Montague also founded Wedge Curatorial Projects, a nonprofit arts organization that supports emerging Black artists.