Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) announces its newest exhibition, THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show. The exhibition showcases new work from 12 visionary Houston-based Black artists including Imhotep Blot by way of Amaechina Blot and Studio KER led by Michael Bennett, Colby Deal, Nahtan (Nate) Edwards, Dom Elam, Amarie Gipson, Priscilla T. Graham, Gem Hale, Charonda Johnson, Berlin Nicholas, Jaylen Pigford, Irene Antonia Diane Reece, and Jason Woods (Flash Gordon Parks), who were invited to examine innovative ways of participating in the storytelling of Black legacy and heritage in Houston Freedmen’s Town.
Located in Fourth Ward, Freedmen’s Town is the first settlement of freed Black People in the city of Houston. At one time the boundaries of Freedmen’s Town extended from the banks of Buffalo Bayou bordering downtown to present day Montrose. This origin place once consisted of over 500 historic structures within a vast swath of city streets. These structures were aggressively and systemically reduced, building by building, street by street, resulting in the much-diminished footprint of present-day Freedmen’s Town.
Working with Charonda Johnson, a fifth-generation Freedmen’s Town resident and CAMH x HFTC’s Engagement Manager, these artists reimagine the documentation of a critical period for the historical Houston Freedmen’s Town. The artists’ work is part archival, navigating the What If…? of a community that faltered at the hands of systematic forces. Together, the artists engage in fortifying the archive of Freedmen’s Town and overcome the momentums of erasure and reclaim the intent of the founding Freedmen’s Town Community members.
The artwork included in the exhibition centers the histories and the present realities of Houston’s Freedmen’s Town. Artists were supported by Research Fellows to create work that centered the histories and present realities of Houston’s Freedmen’s Town. Informed from the archives at the African American History Research Center located within Freedmen’s Town and oral histories of living legacy residents, Black artists in the exhibition develop an understanding of how to relate to the one of the first land in Houston that welcomed Black freedom since America’s founding.
Architecture and design collective Studio KER combines architecture, furniture design, and myth meaning to create a space for contemplation over the concerns of Freedmen’s Town, realizing the memories and interpretations by the late artist and designer Imohotep Blot by Studio KER founder Michael Bennett and Blot’s sister, Amaechina. Artist and activist Priscilla T. Graham uses her camera lens to present work around the pivotal moment that civil rights activist Dorris Ellis Robinson protested the city’s impending destruction of Freedmen’s Town historic brick streets by physically laying her body down in front of them. Nahtan (Nate Edwards), in collaboration with cinematographer Nick Lloyd and producer Unique James, responds to James Blue’s 1978 three-part documentary, Who Killed the Fourth Ward?, with a filmic work that imagines Freedmen’s Town’s resuscitation, utilizing VR into present landscapes to create visual possibilities for things to come.