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.
The 184-page publication As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021) presents an exciting compilation of 142 photographs from African diasporic culture. With its panoply of works by Black artists, this volume provides a timely exploration of Black identity on both sides of the Atlantic. The book includes a preface by Teju Cole, a photographer, novelist, essayist and curator. Other contributors include Dr. Mark Sealy, director of Autograph ABP (Association of Black Photographers), UK, since 1991, and Liz Ikiriko, a Tkaronto/Toronto-based, Nigerian Canadian artist and curator. She is curator of collections and contemporary engagement at the Art Gallery of York University, Toronto, and co-curator of the 13th Rencontres de Bamako/African Biennale of Photography, Mali (2022).
Please join us for a preview party on Friday, June 16, at 6:30 pm featuring remarks by Stephanie Hueon Tung, Byrne Family Curator of Photography and exhibition organizers. Invitation to follow.
High-resolution images are available upon request.
Share your impressions with us on social media using #AsWeRisePhoto
SPONSORS & PARTNERS
As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic is organized by Aperture and curated by Elliott Ramsey (Polygon Gallery, North Vancouver, Canada). This exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation. Additional support was provided by individuals who support the Exhibition Innovation Fund: Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Chip and Susan Robie, Timothy T. Hilton, Kate and Ford O'Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.
- Dawit L. Petros, Hadenbes, 2005 from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy the artist/Bradley Ertaskiran.
- Zun Lee, Jebron Felder and his son Jae’shaun at home, Harlem, New York, September 2011, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy Zun Lee, from the Father Figure Project.
- Lebohang Kganye, Re shapa setepe sa lenyalo II, 2013, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). © Lebohang Kganye.
- Kennedi Carter, Untitled (Self-Portrait), 2020, from As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy Kennedi Carter.
Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, connects the photo community and its audiences with the most inspiring work, the sharpest ideas, and with each other—in print, in person, and online. Created in 1952 by photographers and writers as “common ground for the advancement of photography,” Aperture today is a multiplatform publisher and center for the photo community. From its base in New York, Aperture produces, publishes, and presents a variety of photography projects and programs—locally, across the United States, and around the world. For more information, visit aperture.org.
ABOUT THE PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM
Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind, including superlative works from around the globe and across time — American art and architecture, Asian and Asian export art, maritime, Native American, Oceanic, and African art, fashion and textiles and photography, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM's campus offers a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese home that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture in the United States. HOURS: Open Thursday–Monday, 10 am–5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit pem.org.