On a small plinth, tucked in the corner of the gallery space, is a wooden box full of folded notes and pencils. Handwritten on a slip of paper is the invitation, “Write a love letter.” An open-faced notepad rests beside the wooden box, waiting for visitors to participate. This small and simple gesture engages visitors and begins a conversation about our perceptions of love.
Let Black Fxlk Be, at The Bakery Atlanta only through March 5, is a queer art show that celebrates love through a queer lens. Platonic, familial, romantic and self-love are welcome in this space. Beyond the work on the walls, the Bakery offers a space of reprieve, of safety and freedom for black fxlk to be vulnerable enough to express love to others and themselves.
This small-scale art show was organized by Atlanta-based illustrator and curator Chiomma Hall. Hall proposed an art exhibition for The Bakery more than a year ago, one that took its perspective on love from the black queer gaze. The intention was to create a space for black people to visit, feel represented and start talking, as well as an opportunity to show and celebrate variations of black queer love, from friendship to polyamory. The idea has since developed into a multimedia group show featuring work by Hall, The Color Cienna, Kristyn McKinney and Talecia Tucker. It features photographs, watercolors, collages and more.
Hall’s illustrations are vibrant and textural. The pastel colors seem to saturate the paper and, embellished with glitter, they appear dewy and lush. There’s fantasy evoked in the worlds of her figures. In her Queerly Aligned (2020), a femme-presenting figure luxuriates in otherworldly light emitting from disembodied eyes. Their shoulders and legs are exposed, revealing the sparse hair of unshaved legs. The figure is crowned in light, evoking the halos of gothic paintings to present a divine being free from gender conformity and the opinions of others.
To enter the gallery, viewers must make their way past a half-warped loom and stacks of art-making materials. The Bakery is a DIY space where art and crafts are taught and made, and Let Black Fxlk Be reflects that. The location breaks down the pretense of more traditional gallery spaces and makes plain the artistic process. The wall labels are handwritten, and there is no title wall or contextualizing material. Some works are framed and hung more formally; others lean or are pinned directly on the walls, giving a more casual presentation. Viewers are meant to linger and experience. The DIY space and the inclusion of simple gestures like the love-letter box make the show feel accessible, open for interpretation and participation.
McKinney’s Passing the Ball (2019) is a copper-and-wood collage piece that breaks from the rectangular canvas and rests on a plinth. Abstracted shapes, lines and forms create a jagged three-dimensional surface across the profile of a black face. Like a mosaic, the pieces of metal fit haphazardly together, suggesting improvisation and movement. The face serene, with eyes closed, is framed by what appears to be a slew of outstretched hands. A brown-tinted circular form looms over head, like the rubber of a basketball or the full face of the sun.
Let Black Fxlk Be feels like an experiment. Though it pulls together works that are singularly beautiful in content and craft, it isn’t cohesive. There are gaps where more works, more experiences, more expressions of love could live. What the show does well is claim space. Hall and her collaborators saw an opportunity to create community and took it. If you’re looking for a place to be fully black and fully queer, to live fully in yourself and fully love others, see Let Black Fxlk Be.