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The Promised Land: Opening Reception

Eleven artists with ties to North and South of the Mason-Dixon Line respond to just how much Black life has always been in transit. 



The Great Migration was one of the largest movements of people in United States history. It has transformed cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York and Pittsburgh between 1916 and 1970. Chicago received more than 500,000 Black Southern Americans during this time.


To Southern Blacks, Chicago was considered the “Promised Land”. Stories of big city life — jobs with good wages, homes with running water, and basic freedoms denied to Blacks in the South — made the Northern city a prime destination for Blacks coming from below the Mason-Dixon line. As the most documented migration in US history, photographers like Gordon Parks, Florestine Perrault Collins, Moneta Sleet Jr., Roy DeCarava, and Coreen Simpson created imagery that demonstrated Black life in movement.

Today, contemporary artists and image makers respond to the many migrations of African Diaspora peoples and the influences of these movements in their work.


Derrick Woods-Morrow. Non-traditional Acts of Divination: Impression. Photograph. 18 in. x 24 in. 2019.


Featured Artists:


Lawrence Agyei

Anwulika Anigbo

Rose Blouin

Billie Carter-Rankin

Jen Everett

Mandela Hudson

Shabez Jamal

Sulyiman Stokes

Darryl Terrell

Loren Toney

Derrick Woods-Morrow


Darryl DeAngelo Terrell. 279º W 42º21’39” N 83º2’20″W Detroit, MI. Archival inkjet print. 24 in. x 36 in. 2021



Join us for an opening reception as we celebrate a diverse breath of photo and image works from some of the most promising artists exploring the possibilities and realities of Black life in image-making and photography.

Image courtesy (above). Sulyiman Stokes. Untitled (Momma #2). Photograph. 11 in. x 14 in. 2021


Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.