No New Thing
Black Archives founder Renata Cherlise presents a selection of photographs from MoMA’s collection that highlight everyday moments of Black life.
Feb 14, 2022
I was born under the Florida sun. And ain’t nothing new about me. I’ve been here before and some version of myself shall return here again and again.
And then I will imagine, in a direct refusal to forget.
Alongside those who came before me, I imagined Black Archives in an effort to immerse myself within the vastness of Blackness. To reconcile the images of Black folks that I saw depicted in the media and that conflicted with our very existence. The very thing about us that I knew to be true was falsely presented.
My archival work is an ushering of the faces left behind. A space to reemerge fully and joyously outside of bare bones and frameworks. A passageway to reconnect with kin. An affirmation that there shall be no surprises when we witness the sayings of our elders, when our ancestors pierce through our lips and ascend. We see them as they see us. Their facial features as ours—their poses are now our poses, and we are reminded through these photographs that we are not the first, and there’s nothing new about us that is born under the sun.
It is imperative that we collectively (re)imagine the archive as more than just a register holding the accounts of dead things. We must make space for the multidimensional lives of Black folks—beyond just the metadata. We must view the archive as a living extension of ourselves and listen for the breaths while counting the heartbeats beyond the unknown, the unnamed, and the unspecified.
In this selection of photographs from MoMA’s collection, I chose to highlight the everyday moments of Black life. Not as a way to correct the narrative or “enable some kind of redress,” but rather as an exercise in love and narrative reflection.
Unknown photographer. Untitled. c. 1923
And I will go on to remember the many versions of ourselves and their-selves, and the selves of us and them that do not yet exist.
Renata Cherlise is a research-based visual artist and memory worker who uses various mediums to explore themes of identity and familial interiors within the Black community. Her work reimagines themes in literature, history, and photography to render different perspectives of the Black experience. These ideas became the foundation for Black Archives, a multimedia platform that provides dynamic accessibility to a Black past, present, and future.
Explore additional vernacular photographs in Gallery 214: Critical Fabulations, which includes artworks related to artifacts, archives, and testimonies.