TASSELS in the Sky
To be Black and educated are two identities that go against the grain of America’s foundations when put together. In 2018, there are more Black men and women earning college degrees than ever before. While we celebrate our success, this progression is normalized to the point we don’t bask in the beauty that it is to be a Black college graduate. Our historic struggles are muted along with the significance of our achievements. To be Black and educated isn’t ordinary. It’s brilliantly rebellious.
“TASSELS” is the apex of that forgotten celebration. Photographed by Curtis Taylor, Jr., the exhibit is a series of seven photographs that explores the complexity of the journey it is to be a Black graduate. While the photographs are the center of attention, the first thing to be noticed is the massive cluster of blood red yarn hanging against the white walls. Above the small colonies of yarn, the photographs turn the interior accessory into the story of a cultural journey.
“Red is such a bold color and it makes a really bold statement…when you’re thinking about lifelines, you’re thinking about what life looks like,” Taylor, Jr. said. “From what we know, life is the color red...it’s a power color. I didn’t want the voices, the stories and the journeys of those who came before us muted in any way. I wanted them to be as bold as they were and still are. That’s symbolic of life and our past and where we’re going after we graduate from this space.”
Three of the seven photographs are displayed unframed and without titles, but they tell stories that speak for themselves and are bound in a world of their own. The series begins with a photo of six Black college graduates standing in a grass field, each holding their own cluster of red yarn that’s symbolic of the tassels on their caps. As the story progresses, the graduates become entangled in their collective web of yarn while creating a single identity. Their expressions are strong and ethereal while they become seemingly inseparable, wrapped in each other’s journeys and stories.
One photograph in particular stands out as the pinnacle empress of the exhibit. In the center photograph, a Black woman is the star of the story with the yarn heavily draped across her deep skin like a holy cloth. She’s standing in a grass field against a blue horizon, both powerful in her solo existence and somehow wistfully alone. From the photographer’s perspective, the provocative melancholy was intentional and speaks of the consequential cultural isolation that becomes the fate for some Black men and women in academia and corporate America.
"You can have all of these things and in the end still you can very much still end up alone,” Taylor, Jr. said. “It's kind of this beautifully sad thing. That piece is the one in the entire work that will make you kind of tilt your head, stay there for a second and go 'Tell me about this one.'”
The exhibit as a whole is dedicated in particular to “Every graduate before us to wear that tassel,” a devotion painted in Black scripture against a White wall. To be Black and educated is more than receiving a scroll of paper in our brown fingertips for an audience to see, but rather a status a freedom and power in a world that didn’t believe in us.
The exhibition will continue to run until June 15th, 2018 in the Greens in Columbia, Missouri.
Words by Kennedy Ward