A museum in Philadelphia is displaying the joy of the Black community one photo at a time.
The digital Museum of Black Joy is open in Philadelphia. It is an affirming exhibit by curator and creator Andrea Walls.
The 57-year-old is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She began studying photography in 2018 and launched what’s called the “borderless exhibition” on the first day of January 2020. She noticed stories involving Blackness were often about struggles and violence rather than jubilation.
“It was really starting to impact my emotional self, and became so psychically overwhelming,” she told NPR. “So I just saw the power of shifting the lens, making a conscious decision to pay attention to the joy,” she said. “The way they arranged the history of Black people in America — it hasn’t centered joy. But we’ve always lived it.””
During the dark days of the pandemic and the constant images and stories of racial injustice, The Museum of Black Joy became a source of healing. Walls began to to shine a new light and perspective that reflects the Black experience. She posted images she did not see — a girl reading a book in the library, a senior citizen raising her hand in salute of Black power or a couple bonding while enjoying milkshakes.
“And I felt, all right, well, this is what I can do,” she recalls. “I can show daily images of what I’m calling Black joy, which is just ordinary moments of grace and kindness and non-traumatic breath. I started it as a daily practice.”
Currently, the museum features only Walls’ own photography but she hopes to change that soon, with the help of funding from the Leeway Foundation and a grant from a haircare company supporting Black women-identified artists. Walls sees the Museum of Black Joy as an inheritor of the Black Arts Movement.