Digitizing our Heritage through the Black Vernacular

My maternal great-grandparents, Martha Jane Hicks and Sim Hicks, of Virgina. Photo courtesy of Folashade Kornegay.

Paying homage to our ancestors is rooted in ancient traditions from Africa, where religions such as Yoruba and Lugbara called on those who came before us to help guide our path through our earthly existence. With the advent of the Internet and social media, people have been discovering ways to create digital time capsules and honoring our past. Dwayne Rodgers, a photographer and artist based in New York City has decided to draw on these traditions. This past Black History Month, he began The Black Vernaculara communal ancestral shrine for people of African descent.

My maternal grandparents, Frezell and Elvin Caple. Photo courtesy of Folashade Kornegay.

The project is multi-faceted in its approach to the evaluation of what makes art “art.” The use of vernacular photography—described by Rodgers as amateur photography interpreted through the context of art—express ideas about class, accessibility, and what drives people to take a snapshot. The project asks, what deems something worthy of a picture? Who decides a picture’s artistic worth? Using this methodology, we can use vernacular photography as a lens to examine and discuss class, popular aesthetics, and emotions. We are exposed to the lives our ancestors led, creating a richer story and common thread of beauty and unity that is needed not only when referencing art, but when locating ourselves within our history.

Even though the men and women exhibited in these photographs may not be my relatives, the creation of this communal altar has connected us all. It is a powerful reminder that despite the pain that people of color have endured over the centuries, there is still beauty in everyday life. This project inspires me to find family photos to contribute and opens a conversation within the rest of my family about our history. In that way, The Black Vernacular is not only a means to pay homage to those who came before us, but helps reinforce the ties that bind us together as families, communities, and a diaspora across oceans.

The project is ongoing, and you can submit photos of your ancestors by emailing Dwayne Rodgers at diggswayne1@gmail.com. You can also follow him on twitter at @diggswayne.

by Folashade Kornegay

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