“These black-and-white large scale prints … are my attempts to define myself for myself,” writes photographer Danielle Scruggs about her series of self-portraits on display through March 22 in Luther’s CFL gallery, in conjunction with the Black History Conference. “It is especially crucial for me to create these images because historically, black women have not always been the ones in control of how black women are portrayed in art, media, and popular culture.” (Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond)
'This is me. This is what I look like. This is a person. There doesn't really have to be anything else on top of that ... a lot of times black people can be placed in boxes, in popular culture.' -- Danielle Scruggs
It may seem ironic that this exhibit -- which is, in a sense, putting a black woman's body on display for public gaze -- is a complement to Luther's 10th annual Black History Conference, a theme of which was to critique the historical "parading" of black female bodies within a context of oppression and injustice that is arguably still operative.
But that irony also is the point -- of the conference, and of the exhibit.
Conference keynote speaker Dorothy Roberts spoke about the "paradox of silence and display," where black women's bodies have been displayed via harmful cultural stereotypes at the same time as their voices and avenues of self-definition have been silenced and blocked.
"It is important for me to create a sense of agency over how I am portrayed and to serve as an example for other black women to tell their own stories," writes photographer Danielle Scruggs in her artist's statement at daniellescruggs.com -- and at the Luther College CFL gallery, where Scruggs' self-portrait series is on exhibit through March 22.
"These are choices that I've made," Scruggs said about her photographs during a gallery talk that capped off the conference last week.
"It's really coming from me and it's really coming from my personal experience."
And the process of making those choices and putting the photographs on display, was as political as it was personal.
"Just showing a black person just being is a political statement," she said.
And that, too, is the point.
"It's crucial for me to present myself as simply being," her artist's statement continues, "and to show that I am a fully fleshed-out, three-dimensional person with thoughts, dreams, fears, etc. -- just like anyone else."