“Black men in America are portrayed in the extreme—either as very rich or very poor, they are demonized, infantilized, ridiculed, idolized or hyper-sexualized—and within the art canon there is a noticeable scarcity of black male representation.”
In The Testament Project, artist Kris Graves brings together multiple portrait series, video interviews, and writing of African American men in order to counter the misrepresentation of Black masculinity in American society. For his exhibition at Blue Sky, Graves has included prints from his Glowan and Studio series alongside additional environmental portraits, all of which provide an empowering space for self-presentation at a time when it is needed more than ever.
To create the images for Glowan, the artist works with each sitter to employ striking colored gels that reflect each man’s desired hues and placement of light. Similarly, the more traditionally-lit Studio portraits incorporate individual preferences regarding pose and expression, while the titles for these images reveal the profession of the person photographed and quietly broaden the discussion of race in relation to class. Graves’s inclusion of environmental portraits provides yet another dimension to a collaborative project that highlights the importance of agency in representation, especially for a demographic whose image has often been shaped by the dominant white gaze within mainstream art and media outlets.
Kris Graves is an artist, curator, and publisher currently living and working in New York City. He earned a BFA in Visual Arts from the School of Art + Design at Purchase College in New York in 2004 and has exhibited his work extensively over the past decade. In 2016, Graves will present The Testament Project at The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado, in addition to participating in exhibitions associated with the 2015 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in the United Kingdom. His monograph, The Testament Project, Volume I, was released this month in conjunction with his solo show at Blue Sky.