Blair Ebony Smith(This image is from the Krannert Art Museum website: https://kam.illinois.edu/news/blair-ebony-smith-focuses-community-engagement-drive-postdoctoral-fellow-art-education)
The Krannert Art Museum’s new exhibit, “Homemade With Love, More Living Room,” takes you into a home full of life. The lives displayed—through each photograph, book, painting and soundtrack—are the lives of Black women and girls. The color changing lamps placed in each corner of the room and the many couches creates an inviting atmosphere for the visitor. The living room styled exhibit gives you an intimate glimpse into Black girls and their artistic capabilities.
Blair Ebony Smith, Post Doctoral Fellow in art education, curated this space through her collaboration with the Krannert Art Museum. This gallery allowed her to dip her toes into curator work and expand her ideas—an opportunity she hasn't had before.
“My work is thinking about making sense of home and what it means to work with Black girls and Black women across spaces and time, across geographical limits,” said Smith. “What that means to create a home with Black girls and women.”
Smith credits her participation in a group called Saving Our Lives Hearing Our Truths(SOLHOT) as a big influence to her studies and her curation. The SOLHOT collective was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign centered on cultivating creativity and talent amongst Black girls. Smith includes the work of SOLHOT with the help of its founder, Ruth Nicole Brown, a previous UIUC professor in the gender women studies department.
“SOLHOT is everything, we have different practices and rituals. There are SOLHOT sessions where we meet directly with Black girls to celebrate who they are,” Brown said. “We do everything, some performance, making art, expressing theories, writing, skits and we always enjoy meals together.”
The SOLHOT banner is placed at the corner of the entrance, adjacent to the “Art Studio” with a photo gallery of their sessions and work. Smith says that she plans to have the studio as a space for performative events and more sessions with the youth in the community.
“I personally came to use this space as an office studio space. I plan to just go in and write, breath, make music, play sounds, use it as a living space,” said Smith. “I want there to be planned meetings and gatherings but I also want it to be a living space where you kind of just go with the flow, go with your heart.”
Smith explored her own familial roots as inspiration for the large quilt placed in the center of the room. Quilt-making has been a tradition for her ancestors in Gee's Bend Alabama, who lived on the Pettway plantation around the 19th century. She says that the coalition of Black women quilt-makers played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement; spreading warmth and love through this Black art home-making tradition.
“I was so excited to include it because I think generally I have seen that when museums have curated the quilts, it's usually around Black Art in the American South,” said Smith. “There is nothing really focused on Black women’s art so I was like I had to use this quilt and I have to put it in conversation with Black girlhood.”
Some of the books around the quilt describe its history and showcase other Black female authors’ work. In regards to the video, Smith collaborated with a fellow member of SOLHOT, Kamari Smalls. The laughter and singing from the films fill the room, adding to a home-like atmosphere where noise is no stranger.
“The films that she produced in the past few years with family, of family, of friends are thinking about home and togetherness and being with people that she loves.” said Smith
Smith hopes to add more artwork and more events for as long as her gallery is up. It was on view from August 2020 and will stay in the museum until July 3, 2021. Smith was given a space by SOLHOT to create and with this exhibit she says she wanted to create more of these spaces for Back girls.
“Blair has always been a member(of SOLHOT) as a DJ but this position really gave her access to an institution like the museum to display it,” said Brown. “While we always have the talent and creativity we don’t necessarily have access to institutions. In her positions as curator she was able to utilize their resources and do what we have been doing for years.”