"Just as you are, I choose you. And I'll keep making that choice every time I see you."
It's called The Beautiful Project, and it truly is. The halls of the Uris Education Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are covered by inspiring, creative, compelling texts and photographs by young Black women artists. The Met is partnering with the North Carolina organization, The Beautiful Project, whose goal is to assist and support the creative efforts of Black girls who use writing and photography to define, declare, champion, and celebrate themselves and each other.
On the walls are images and texts that represent over 10 years of work by a significant number of creators – some as young as 8. The words and pictures are at times tender, quotidian, frank, fanciful, and joyful. They capture life's moments of pride, happiness and pain, but always with affirmation. "Pen, Lens & Soul," the exhibition, highlights works of The Beautiful Project's artists, scholars, and educators working to empower Black girls to be, "the caretakers of their needs, images, and stories."
Sisterhood and Hope
The Met, along with twenty other organizations, comprise the Collaborative for Creative Practice and Social Justice, and this is the first show the Met has organized with The Beautiful Project. It's also the first time many of these women artists and writers have had their work exhibited. For it to be presented at an institution like The Met is moving for both the creators and visitors. It's impossible not to cheer for these enthusiastic, accomplished expressions of self, community and deep respect.
The Beautiful Project was founded in 2004 to "create spaces for Black girls and women to express their power and beauty." Posters and text around the Uris Education Center proclaim beliefs about creativity, ambition, culture and spirituality that guide it. "The Sisterhood Creed" with words by Pamela Thompson and design by Winnie Okwalol (from North Carolina and Uganda) fills one wall and states, "I'm compelled to compete for you, not with you. I am determined to abandon jealousy when it comes to you, because you are me, and when you receive, so do I. I recognize that my smile holds you up."
Jamaica Gilmer, founder and executive director of The Beautiful Project stated, "We wanted to offer Black girls and women a space of sisterhood and hope." The Met exhibition brings together art and writing from both students and their teachers and mentors. There are essays and whimsical sci-fi stories, portraits, and photographs of interiors, groups and street scenes. The guidelines are without limit. It's all about what these young artists see, feel, hope and imagine. "I hope when our young artists walk through the exhibition they will meet their undeniable selves, and see clearly what their creativity and diligence inspired. The world needs to hear their voices," Gilmore said. Indeed.
It's always a gift to find inspiring, meaningful works of art that engender thought, spark emotions, and touch the soul. It's hard to imagine a better time than Black History Month to experience the beauty, poise, strength, and promise of the women artists of The Beautiful Project. Their images and stories will be at the Met through February 24th, including a panel that states "I can do anything. I believe that all is feasible for me. I dream big, wild dreams, allowing my imagination to run free. And I strive, work, and do everything in my power to make room for myself to explore, dream some more, and soar."
IF YOU GO
What: Pen, Lens & Soul: The Story of The Beautiful Project
Where: Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education, The Met 1000 Fifth Avenue
When: Through February 24, 2020