Question Bridge: Black Males Returns to OMCA
Now part of the Museum’s permanent collection, the thought-provoking media installation raises complex issues and fosters connections
What does it mean to be black and male in the United States today? Certainly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but the importance of asking this question in the first place can’t be overestimated—especially in this time of racially motivated violence, movements such as Black Lives Matter, and all-too-frequent negative stereotypes in the media.
This is the intent of Question Bridge: Black Males, an ambitious video installation created by artists Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair. By interviewing some 150 black men across the U.S. of different ages, backgrounds, orientations, and socioeconomic conditions, the artists hoped to stimulate conversations. They wanted their subjects to generate questions about blackness and maleness not so much to provide answers but to facilitate open conversations about what it means to be a black male today.
Question Bridge: Black Males debuted at OMCA in 2012 to great acclaim and returns to the Gallery of California Art this fall as a new acquisition to the Museum’s collection. This artwork has become widely recognized as a work of national significance and is also in the collection of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. In the project, five video screens create an intimate and immersive environment showing black men ruminating on themes of identity, family, love, interracial relationships, community, education, and more. The compelling videos, in which individual men speak directly into the camera, reveal a rare degree of intimacy, honesty, vulnerability, and insight—and underscore the imperative need for social change.
“People were deeply moved by the 2012 exhibition,” says Senior Curator of Art and Director of Exhibition Strategy René de Guzman. “Visitors said they felt deeply touched by the opportunity to witness intimate conversation among a diverse group of black men.”
The exhibition’s impact—and its relevance to Oakland, birthplace of the Black Panther Party—inspired the Museum to acquire the work for its permanent collection. “This acquisition is a powerful signal that OMCA believes conversations about black males are part of California’s story, as well as an essential part of the Museum’s story,” de Guzman says. “Question Bridge is about the importance of being open and sharing—and that is what OMCA is all about. Conversations like this one help us understand each other.”
Photography: Stills courtesy of the artists. Question Bridge: Black Males was created by Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayete Ross Smith, and Kamal Sinclair. The Executive Producers are Delroy Lindo, Deborah Willis, and Jesse Williams.
Question Bridge: Black Males is sponsored by the Bay Area Video Coalition and supported in part by a grant from the Open Society Institute: Campaign for Black Male Achievement, The Tribeca Film Institute, the Sundance Film Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab, the LEF Foundation, The Center for Cultural Innovation, UPM, DualStar Digital, and The California College of the Arts; and in collaboration with transmedia production partner Innovent, Inc. and general production partner farWord, Inc.