Though its subject matter is, in some ways, very specific—black males in America talking about the issues of their identity—as an exhibition "Question Bridge: Black Males," now on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, is a completely immersive experience, enthralling and engaging, by which any viewer can be at once confused and fascinated.
The exhibition is one of discussion. Through video interviews, 150 black men from across the country ask and answer questions—questions of family and relationships, of community and education and discrimination, of anger and violence, of what it means to be a black man today and what it meant 50 years ago, and what it might mean 50 years from now.
The exhibition is installed not on the gallery’s walls but instead on a black, multipanel screen set up in the middle of the room, and there is the sense that the show doesn’t belong to the Corcoran—or any museum—even temporarily, but rather to the men being interviewed, the crew behind the scenes and the viewer taking it all in.
The exhibition’s programming supports that same idea. In addition to a lecture with Hank Willis Thomas, one of the project's co-creators, which took place in early December, in early 2014 the Corcoran will present two panel discussions that will provide a platform for current and future black male leaders within the community to discuss the impact of "Question Bridge."
The first panel, which will be held on Jan. 23 at THEARC (Town Hall Educational Arts Recreation Campus) in Southeast D.C., will bring together emerging and established black male leaders in the Washington, D.C., community to talk about the issues they face, the insights they’ve gleaned and the communication boundaries that exist between generations that still challenge them today. In addition to Bayeté Ross Smith, one of the artists and co-creators of "Question Bridge," and several invitees, the Corcoran will choose two panelists from a group of community-nominated leaders to participate in the discussion. While the event is open to the public, there will be no audience participation in the discussion itself, reiterating that "Question Bridge" is meant to take the questions and topics that external voices often use to talk about black men and internalize them within the group they impact.
On Feb. 5, the Corcoran College of Art and Design will also present a second panel, sponsored by members of its on-campus diversity group, SPECTRUM. On that evening, students from area colleges and universities will join those at the Corcoran to discuss and respond to the themes that "Question Bridge" introduces, and how it relates to them and their lives.
With these programs, the Corcoran is extending the reach of the exhibition beyond the walls of the gallery. While the exhibition does come with a certain set of absolutes—there are five video monitors, 150 men and defined open and close dates—the conversation that the exhibition encourages is one that will never truly be over. There are hundreds of questions that could still be asked and thousands of answers that could still be explored, millions of black males who could still share their stories. Whether documented or not, one hopes that that somehow they will.
Established in 1869, the Corcoran Gallery of Art was one of America’s first museums of art, dedicated, in the words of founder William Wilson Corcoran, to “encouraging American genius.” Today it is Washington, D.C.’s largest nonfederal art museum, known internationally for its distinguished collection of historical and modern American art as well as contemporary art, photography, European painting, sculpture and the decorative arts.