By Qur’an Hansford
Last week the Rider University Art Gallery hosted an exhibit entitled “I’m Still Black” presented by artist Osmyn J. Oree. The exhibit debuted 17 black-and-white tremendous photographs of black people portraying themselves in everyday situations.
Oree intended to bring a new face to Rider’s campus, a face that is not ordinarily portrayed in the arts or in the best light in the public eye. The artist normalized the black body through his exhibit by using various shapes, sizes, hairstyles and clothing. Oree beautifully conveyed the juxtaposition of being black and vulnerable.
The images closely resembled paintings, due to the high definition of the camera, as well as the smoothness of the skin of the models. Every strand of hair shown embodied the texture of kink and coil, while the skin had natural features such as dimples, wrinkles and stretch marks. This series of images told the honest story of ordinary people living their lives unapologetically. The amount of transparency and vulnerability expressed through the images was hard to ignore, and it was as if the artist had a personal connection to every single one of his inspirations. There were no smiling faces however the eyes of Oree’s muses spoke volumes.
Oree prides himself on why he tends to not photograph models for his art because he strictly did not want the subjects to pose. The art that is displayed comes from unconscious gestures or their current emotions. Oree tells them to freeze, then snaps the captivating shot exemplifying the normalcy and natural state of black people.
“There is a reason behind everything I do, everything has a reason. The large format was to help me slow down and actually focus on the people I am photographing. I made [the images] black and white because it is a black and white issue quite literally. This comes from me being bullied in high school for who I was, how I dressed and how I acted. I set out on a journey to find people that related to me in a way that felt they can share their story. But as they go through this they realize there are many ways to be black and even though I may dress a different way, wear different shoes or play different sports, I’m still black,” said Oree.
The last image of the showcase and the face of Oree’s black-and-white exhibit was none other than his Uncle Fred. Oree became emotional when speaking of his uncle, whose wisdom and stories motivated Oree’s art.
“I really did not know I was going to be the face, [Osmyn] wanted to get a photo of me and I said OK. We took that photo on the campus of Franklin and Marshall where I went to school in the 50s and we took it on the football field on the home side. I was the first black quarterback,” said Uncle Fred. “Going to F&M there was only four black students in my class in 1954 and when I finished in 1958 we had eight black students. I am probably the fourth oldest black student that attended Franklin and Marshall.”
The setting in the art gallery was intimate, the faces of these art enthusiasts resembled the ones hung up on the walls as well as many curious faces of those who admired Oree’s work and wanted to know more. The audience was able to look through the eyes and the lens of Oree to grasp a better understanding of what is to be ordinarily black.
When asked what was his next step, the artist expressed he does not have any plans of stopping any time soon.
“I still have new people to meet and all kinds of ideas, so this project is far from over.”
The exhibit is on display in the Rider Art Gallery until Dec. 6.
Published in the 10/30/19 issue of The Rider News.