Picturing Black Childhood: An Artist’s Journey

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Here are works by Doris Derby, who chronicled the civil rights movement in the 1960s, often focusing on women and children, and the teenage artists Fanta Diop and Dashara McDaniel, who took pictures of their fellow Black Lives Matter protesters in the Bronx and Chicago, respectively.

Looking at the work of the youngest artists in the show, Roberts was struck both by what hadn’t changed for Black girls — including the continuing need to fight for their rights — but also, at moments, what has. She stopped at a particularly effective pairing: A 1990 photo by Carrie Mae Weems, in which a young girl carefully replicates the mother’s gesture of putting on lipstick in a mirror, and “Make Up Time,” a video selfie made by Seneca Steplight-Tillet, the curator’s niece, on her eighth birthday.

“Look at the way this young girl puts on makeup and poses for the camera,” Roberts said. “You can sense that she accepts her own beauty and can communicate it, thanks to new technologies. It’s the same message as Weems’s photo, but it’s told through a different lens.”

After a day of reflecting on the creativity of Black girls and women, I asked Roberts what she aspires for kids growing up today. “I want the same thing for Black girls that white girls receive,” she said. “This sense of innocence and joy and playfulness, of being silly and immature and not being punished for it, knowing that their hair grows toward God and it is both beautiful and challenging. I want Black girls to know, just because they appear mighty doesn’t mean they can’t be vulnerable. I want Black girls to be treated as children, not adults.”

Black Dolls

Feb. 25 through June 5, New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, 212-873-3400; nyhistory.org.

Picturing Black Girlhood: Moments of Possibility

Through July 2, Express Newark, 54 Halsey Street, Newark, N.J., expressnewark.org.


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