From left: Back to the Present curators Joi Berry, Communication Design AAS ‘21; Ashleigh Simpson, Fashion Design AAS ‘21; and Kia Ward, Textile/Surface Design BFA ‘21
The curators behind the Back to the Present virtual exhibition, powered by FIT’s Black Student Union (BSU), shared their process and inspiration with Newsroom. Students Joi Berry, Communication Design AAS ‘21; Ashleigh Simpson, Fashion Design AAS ‘21; and Kia Ward, Textile/Surface Design BFA ‘21, organized the exhibition after the student group presented two public art exhibitions at the college in 2020, Black in Time and Chalk That Talk.
Back to the Present, which compares activism, police brutality, and racism from the 1960s and 2020 through the lens of Black artists, features art submitted by the FIT community and other creatives around the United States. The exhibition is hosted by the Art and Design Gallery at FIT and is also sponsored by the FIT’s Diversity Council as part of its Black History Month activities.
Back to the Present is currently on view to the public via the online art gallery platform Artsteps. Here is our interview with the curators.
How did you arrive at the name Back to the Present for the exhibition?
Ashleigh: It was actually Joi’s idea. We wanted to make a connection to BSU’s last exhibition Black in Time while also considering this past year. As it is Black History Month, we always want to reflect on the past, but this year has proven to create its own pages in history.
Tell us a bit more about the theme. Why did you choose the period of the 1960s to the present?
Joi: Ever since the uproar of the Black Lives Matter movement happened in June 2020, I’ve been hearing people compare what we as Black people are going through to the 1960s; even my grandparents have been saying this.
Unfortunately, this rang so true with police brutality coming to the forefront and people who look like my brother and I dying in the street. It was only right to make a comparison to what photos and artwork we’ve seen. As the artwork started coming in, it was eerie to see how similar everything looked, especially the photos.
Tell us about choosing the artists for the show.
Ashleigh: We conducted an open submission for artists by promoting through our @bsu_fit Instagram account. Just as the fall 2020 semester was coming to a close, we opened our application to the public. We accepted all submissions from FIT students, alumni, and even those outside of FIT. Our goal was to open a space for BIPOC individuals to express their experience through art.
Which artwork in the exhibition inspired you the most?
Kia: The artworks from the Black Lives Matter Movement. I think all of the images that the photographers captured really showed exactly what it was like for them to be on the scene during this impactful and powerful time.
To see the emotions, posters, and the large amounts of people marching and protesting for things like justice and equality meant the world to me. I cried during one of our artist talks when one of the artists who is a photographer shared his story about why he was on the site in the first place and why it was so important for him to photograph the movement.
How has the experience of curating a virtual exhibition been different from an in-person show?
Joi: Regardless, you have to be organized. With a virtual exhibition, the organizational factor of everything is emphasized. The moment you lose control of where artwork goes, you can become a jumbled mess. Organization was crucial in order for this exhibition to be successful and for everything to go smoothly.
What would you recommend for FIT students who are interested in hosting an exhibition at the college?
Kia: I would say to go for it! Get a few friends or people who you think may be interested together to help. Make sure the people you choose are just as hardworking as you. Joi asked Ashleigh and I to be the curators of the exhibition alongside her.
I think it’s important to realize that it’s difficult to curate an entire exhibition on your own. Also, organization and communication is key. Make sure that you are well organized and constantly in communication with your curators and all of the other people who may be involved.
What else would you like others to know about the exhibition and the Black Student Union in general?
Kia: We all truly enjoyed making this exhibition come to life and we are grateful for everyone who helped us bring our Back to the Present exhibition to life. I also want people to know that we truly are a union. All of our members love coming to our meetings every Tuesday to talk about anything and everything regarding current events that are taking place within the Black community. Everyone is open to meeting new people and learning something new, and we all love to network.
Ashleigh: This exhibition and every event we host as a Black Student Union is for the betterment and education for us, the Black students of FIT. We do seek to bring awareness and cultural context for others to better understand our perspective, but the most important thing is that our voices are heard. Having a virtual exhibition like this makes what we did as students, alumni, and beyond permitted, and that’s powerful. I am forever grateful for the opportunities within BSU and to be a part of the Back to the Present exhibition.
Joi: The Black Student Union has really made me feel like I can truly be myself and pushed me into my talents. I didn’t know I had a passion for exhibition curation and production until I joined the Black Student Union and got to curate this exhibition along with Chalk That Talk and see parts of Black in Time, as well as help out.
The Black Student Union and the people who help out continuously with events and projects like this are forces to be reckoned with and should never be underestimated. I hope that other Black students that want to apply to FIT and are in FIT become a part of the Black Student Union and become inspired and hone in on their talents as I and others are doing and learning how to do. I’m so grateful for everyone!