Would you know how to answer that question if somebody asked? How deep inside yourself would you need to look to find the answer? It is, after all, an answer that can only come from within yourself, based on what your identity means to you, and nobody else.
What if the question was narrower? If someone asked you what it means to you to be of your race, your gender, your age?
Here's a question that seems rare: What does it mean to you to be a black man? When popular perceptions of black men come so often through aggression in the media and the sobering results of the prison industrial complex, the authentic voices of black men speaking for themselves about what life means to them can be forgotten.
So I'm really intrigued by the transmedia art project Question Bridge: Black Males. It's an installation currently showing at the Oakland Museum of California, as well as a few other locations around the country. Through a unique video format featuring a question and answer exchange between 160 black men, the project "seeks to represent and redefine Black male identity in America."
To me, part of what's intriguing about projects like this one is how seemingly simple it is. It's a big endeavor, setting out to redefine black male identity, and yet, rather than calling for a complex creative process, it begins simply with asking questions and offering answers. This shows how powerful it can be to just speak from our own perspective, rather than allowing the media to speak for us. In this interview with Colorlines, one of the Question Bridge artists, Chris Johnson, speaks of creating as an "engaged artist," "trying to do something that’s transformative for people that experience it." With just a glimpse at this project, it's easy to see how such an installation can, indeed, be a transformative experience, both for those who took part in creating it and for those who witness the results.
A glimpse is all I've gotten so far, but I can't wait to get out to the Oakland Museum of California to see more. You can read more from those who have seen the installation here and here, and visit the Question Bridge website for more information about the project and where you can see it in person.
Here's a preview of what you'll see. What questions would you ask these men if you could? What would you ask someone like yourself? How would you answer?