FATHER FIGURE: EXPLORING ALTERNATE NOTIONS OF BLACK FATHERHOOD
TORONTO EXHIBITION FEB 19 - APR 02, 2015
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Father absence is a highly visible social issue that affects all demographics but is particularly devastating in African-descended communities. According to census statistics, over two-thirds of black children are raised in single-parent households, the vast majority of them being led by the mother. However, research also shows that black fathers are no less present in their children’s lives than their counterparts of other ethnic groups.
Against this backdrop, stereotypes of deadbeat black fathers abound in mainstream media. Much of the imagery countering these stereotypes has remained formulaic, too, often consisting of “über-dad” archetypes (e.g. The Cosby Show’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable), celebrity fathers and “traditional” family patriarchs.
Lost between these extremes: the everyday black father who may not fit conventional notions of fatherhood but is nonetheless taking his role seriously. He may not live at home with his partner or kids, he may not be legally married and he may struggle to provide on a consistent basis, but this does not automatically mean that he is irresponsible. However, these visuals of presence remain underrepresented in most of mainstream media coverage.
My own journey of fatherlessness and identity formation informed my photographic approach. It was not too long ago when a family secret was uncovered: My own biological father was a black man who disappeared when he learned my mother was pregnant with me. For a long time, holding on to the pain of that discovery was easier than dealing with it. But I also realized that a huge part of me was curious to know more about this man, wanted to understand, get to a place of forgiveness. Without any information about my father’s identity or whereabouts, the only way to come to terms with my feelings was to examine them through photography.
Over several years, I built trusted relationships with black fathers from different walks of life. I witnessed intimate parenting scenarios that are often hidden from the public realm and that I myself didn’t experience as a child. What struck me early on was that each father I met expressed his swagger, life rhythm, and ways of relating with their kids and partners in very individual ways. And perhaps more importantly, as I observed these families, another truth revealed itself loud and clear: Contrary to the prevalent media caricature of black men as aggressive, violent, and irresponsible, the fathers I met were loving, affectionate, and dependable. They readily shared their concerns and fears. They were vulnerable enough to allow me to photograph them in moments of joy and times of frustration. They were by no means perfect, but unsung everyday heroes nonetheless, committed to being present one fatherly act at a time.
By showing quiet moments that are often deemed un-newsworthy, I hope this work can help question preconceived notions and present a broader context of black fatherhood. Perhaps it can serve as a counter-narrative to humanize black men as present and competent fathers in a media climate that largely continues to deny this possibility.
Washington Heights, NY.
Separated. Father of Jeremy and Esmeralda.
Married to Cindy Godoy-Richardson. Father of Selah and Zaida.
Single. Father of Jerome Williams.
Married to Lanik Conley-Miller.
Father of Nijeyah, Nijel, Guy Jr., and Lanae.
San Antonio, TX.
Married to Tyra Tennyson-Francis. Father of Tena and Tyja.
Lower East Side, NYC, NY.
Single. Father of Fidel.