Glenn Ligon, Self Portrait at Eleven Years Old, 2004

One of the most contentious and capacious concepts of the modern era, black aesthetics names both a tradition of visual art, music, and literature and a set of linkages, resonances, and breaks.


During the 1960s, black artists and intellectuals embraced the idea of a black aesthetic as an ideological alternative to Eurocentric notions of beauty and taste. Since then, black aesthetics has served more broadly as a site of convergence across the African diaspora, weaving a history of placelessness and belonging, support and constraint, holding and being held.


The works in this exhibition, ranging from the 1950s to the present, embody various ways the aesthetic realm has enabled re-imaginings of blackness. Rather than narrowly defining a genre or a mode of expression, these examples of black art speak to alternate ways of seeing, feeling, living, and being together in the world. Together, they meditate on the word “hold” as a metaphor for thinking about the diverse expressive forms that gather under the banner of black art. Ultimately, Hold questions what animates and brings together the expansive terrain of creativity we call black aesthetics.