She’s creating art that helps us remember and return to joy!
Curator Andrea “Philly” Walls is the brains behind the Museum of Black Joy, a new digital museum devoted to art centering on Black happiness. The 57-year-old artist started by posting photographs on her blog daily in January 2020, highlighting Black joy across Philadelphia in everyday tasks like pilates and girls jumping double dutch. Her inspiration was her own childhood experiences growing up in West Philly, the nostalgia serving as motivation to capture an essence bigger than herself.
“I grew up in Cobbs Creek, in Philly, in West Philly in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I just had so many fond memories of playing double Dutch and tag and just running freely in our bones in the streets, in relative safety...I started to realize that the space was getting smaller and smaller through gentrification. I just got this sense that these things that I have counted on are going to be disappearing or changing in a very profound way. So I felt like I just really needed to start documenting these things before they disappear,” Walls said.
Walls had to shift gears when the pandemic hit, making the transition from daily photography to archiving an entire museum. With the help of the Leeway Foundation and the Chronicling Resistance Activist/Curator Fellowship, Walls was able to help curate multiple projects around Black joy. She brings together documentation, archival work, and expanding the museum to set up in-person collaborative exhibitions across Philadelphia this summer and fall. Her mission is to directly counteract the regular trauma that rotates in the media surrounding Black life.
“It’s on our TV programs, it’s in the news, it’s in so much of social media, where we have all taken in live-action murders. With or without our consent, sometimes they just start playing...I was really looking for a way to make art that doesn’t ignore any of these stories but is not a very traumatizing visual narrative - as just kind of counterprogramming. I’m definitely not trying to refute real stories of people who are really working against injustice and the real traumas that we have to address,” Walls explained.
To Walls, Black joy is the saving grace, not just for Black people but for everyone.
“[Black joy is] a very particular and specific salvation. It’s for me about endurance, possibility, creativity, grace, and a supreme kindness. Because rather than retrofit all of that experience into something that creates a new kind of tyranny, it creates something that could really lift this whole country out of everything, if it was allowed to,” Walls said.
The artist recently received another grant from SheaMoisture/Good Mirrors, which she hopes to commission work from other artists to place free installations in community spaces. The museum is exhibiting Dimensions of Black joy, a set of film collages overlaid with gospel music and poetry. Walls is hoping to expand the work into places like schools and corner stores this December.
To check out the Museum of Black Joy, click here.
Photo Courtesy of Steven M. Falk/The Inquirer