Translating Valence propagates ideas regarding black masculinity that lie in conjunction with, and opposition to, widely held historical and stereotypical beliefs. The title references the psychological theory of emotional valence, which generally refers to values expressed in reference to stimuli, ranging from attractive to aversive. While commonly not discussed regarding individuals, it can be argued that stereotypes about black males create negative valence. Although valence is said to be intrinsic, the idea of questioning the relevance and objective nature of valence is at play in this exhibition.
The black male experience reflects shared trauma, but also shared resilience. Historically, the black male has been demonized and criticized with stereotypes primarily focused on physicality. Contemporary culture continues to grapple with the idea of the black male body being perceived as a weapon in and of itself, striking fear in many upon sight. Black male artists have sought to deconstruct imagery of the black male body in order to shift the gaze from a fetishizing white viewpoint to a collective vulnerability, strategically obscuring and disclosing literal aspects of the body.
This exhibition examines what falls into the folds and what spills out of the creases, deconstructing the body to reveal and conceal through manipulation of imagery. It includes narratives told and retold, with twists and turns, and redefinitions. Each artist creates new figures from the old as material ebbs and flows through distorted subconscious memories, and new experiences and understandings.
The exhibition features the work of black male artists who use figurative abstraction to not only manipulate visual aspects of black masculinity but also question and deconstruct ideas and ideologies around the subject. While the work often deals with the personal experiences of each artist, it also raises questions for the viewer to consider—and perhaps begin to dismantle—long-held beliefs and forced definitions of black masculinity.
Each artist in this exhibition takes a position of power by opting to discuss identity through what information is revealed, and thus made vulnerable, and what is kept veiled.
The body of the black male is on display to act as a counterpoint between the different narratives, but the abstraction of the figure is what leads to ideas of secrecy and protection.
While the exhibition focuses explicitly on black masculinity, it also brings about existential questions of humanity regarding human connection and relational understanding.
This exhibition is presented with support from:
Founders Brewing Co.
Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs