Laurent Chevalier, 31, Visual Artist.
In the future, I want us to be recognized, but not homogenized. It is one thing to be acknowledged for the value and worth that you already have, and it is another thing to shape your experiences and actions in order to meet standards set outside yourself.
Meaning that I wouldn’t want to see Black culture get lost in the progression forward on the quest for recognition of our humanity. The particularly American form of Black culture has many of its roots in the oppression. As much as we all want everyone to be treated equally, a culture has been born out of the fact that we do have different interests, experiences, and points of view. That culture should not be lost in order to achieve a false sign of equality.
In that vein, what I’d like to see is less-reactive Blackness, Blackness less in response and comparison. I want to see work that isn’t always created to combat a problem, but more art that explores what it is that moves us. Even positive things like #BlackMenSmiling still come from the idea of that being the antithesis to a norm. In this technological age, because of the proliferation and speed of information out there, there are so many things for us to be aware of and to be angry about. We have to be careful about that being our only method of discussion, action and exploration. This by no means insinuates that we shouldn’t combat negative stereotypes, oppressive systems and the like, it just can’t be the only mode of operation. We need to think of ways to combat the idea of only equating Blackness with the struggle.
As I proceeded, I sought to approach my work in the same manner of a lot of the classic street photographers. Candid, quick, and observational. Often, those classic lenses weren’t consistently pointed on Black culture and if they were, the widely disseminated images very often were not done by Black photographers. I also think of utilizing those skills to represent Blackness without necessarily making it “protest work.” Our art is inherently political because of the way the art and the artists are interpreted. The work doesn’t have to directly address big policy issues or specific structural/societal issues in order for it to be political.
If you look to the past, there are lot of examples of that being done already. For example, Gordon Parks, when looking beyond a lot of his known work, he found it very important to document the environments and the lives around him, and he was conscious of the locations in which he placed himself. He also was photographing fellow Black creatives in his world. Another example is the photographer Roy DeCarava, who was capturing and preserving Black life in and of itself. It wasn’t really about necessarily capturing oppression; it was preserving the actual lived moments of people who were Black.
I see people attempting to shake that reactive narrative in the arts. They are creating an ecosystem where people are able to see themselves and not have it always be about being in opposition or in response to something. The overwhelming general consensus is not there yet, but I think I see it getting there slowly.
It is important because when you equate your existence to being in constant opposition to oppression, I think that then ends up becoming your identity. You begin living by seeing yourself shaped as a struggle. In the long term, it's not beneficial because if your existence is identified solely as a struggle, then where do you find the beauty in living?”
Laurent's Revolutionary Picks:
For example, Gordon Parks, when looking beyond a lot of his known work, he found it very important to document the environments and the lives around him, and he was conscious of the locations in which he placed himself. He also was photographing fellow Black creatives in his world. Another example is the photographer Roy DeCarava, who was capturing and preserving Black life in and of itself. It wasn’t really about necessarily capturing oppression; it was preserving the actual lived moments of people who were Black.