Photo Exhibit Focuses on Queer Black Life in Pgh

Not a very exciting headline, I admit.  I'm a little tired this morning, but I've been meaning to blog about this exhibit for a few days so I need to get down to it.

Teenie Harris.  You may have heard of him — photographer, documentarian of life in the Hill District for nearly 30 years (30's – 60's) which was, as you know, a period of intense socio-economic, cultural and demographic change.  Harris exhibits are nothing new for Pgh, but this one provides a unique glimpse into what is generally assumed to be an anomaly in Pittsburgh – historical queer black life. 

What's even more interesting is that these photographs are not from hidden little corners frequented by furtive members of Pittsburgh's African-American community.  No, this was an integrated scene wheer queer members were part of the larger culture, not separate from it.  From the City Paper:

While clubs such as Little Paris, the Loendi Club and even the famed Crawford Grill weren't necessarily gay-owned or specifically gay clubs, they hosted cross-dressing performers and welcomed a gay audience. In some photos in Carryin' On, in fact, female impersonators are backed up by legends of jazz and R&B, likely after their pay-gigs let out: R&B singer Sonny Hines, legendary drummer Joni Wilson, pianist Roy Hamilton. In one of Tines' favorite photos, a car, bedecked in streamers and toting a huge speaker on its roof, drives slowly along in one of the Hill's annual parades. On the car's hood, two drag queens bear a sign: “Meet Me at Little Paris.”

The exhibit is the brainchild of Deryck Tines who serves as guest curator for the exhibit.  Tines plans to work with local photographers to document today's queer scene for a planned “Then and Now” exhibit in 2008.  (Tell your queer photographer friends.)  

I really like this particular photograph.  There's just this lovely fusion of flamboyance and ordinariness that makes me actually believe the rest of the story about the integration and acceptance of queer black community within the larger cultural context of the Hill District.

The exhibit runs through September 2 at the Andy Warhol Museum over here on the North Side.  We are absolutely going to catch it and I must say the articles in the PG and the City Paper have prodded me to make that happen sooner rather than later. 

I'm really interested in Deryck's plans to capture the current queer scene. I wonder what the photographers are going to document?  Most of the “images” the media feeds us involve this perception that the African-American community is highly homophobic.  The City Paper did a stunningly awful job on that front in April of 2006 <how can you write about the local gay black experience without including local gay black women?> 

My African-American friends deny that is true and regale me with stories about their parental generations mingling freely with gay individuals.  I'm sure my slice of friends are not representative b/c of the fact that they are friends with a lesbian, but still there's this dischotomy.  That's my new word … dischordant + dichotomy = dischotomy. 

What should be really interesting is if Deryck's photographers examine the younger queer community and the older gay and lesbian community.  I wonder what differences, if any, would crop up? 

Anyway, check out the exhibit and stay tuned for more from Deryck Tines.  Maybe next year, the City Paper will have found a few local gay black women to interview <just kidding, Chris.>

Share The Link:

Comments are closed.