Published August 2, 2022

Photo by Nick Romanenko

“Picturing Black Girlhood: Moments of Possibility,” a stirring visual arts exhibition at Express Newark, celebrated youth and coming-of-age in the African American community.

“Picturing Black Girlhood: Moments of Possibility,” an international exhibition on view last spring at Express Newark, presented intimate, joyful images of Black girls’ coming-of-age stories, told through the photography and film of Black women and genderqueer artists. Their work, reflecting many decades, generations, and settings, was juxtaposed with images taken by Black girls themselves, sharing their experiences and perspectives and underscoring their agency over their young lives.

Curated by photographers Scheherazade Tillet and Zoraida Lopez-Diago, the show filled all three exhibition floors of Express Newark—a “third space” for students, artists, and activists that brings together the communities of Rutgers University–Newark and the city of Newark through socially engaged art and design.

The exhibition featured roughly 180 works by more than 80 artists, ranging in age from 8 to 94. Among the established artists represented in the show were Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lorraine O’Grady, Lola Flash, Sophia Nahli Allison, Deborah Roberts, and Tawny Chatmon.

Brimming with images and stories and demonstrating the endless manifestations of the journey through girlhood, the exhibition opened in February and coincided with the seventh annual gathering of Black Portraiture[s]: Play and Performance. This three-day conference explored the theme of play and performance in past and contemporary African diasporic art and performance, and concluded with a series of keynote conversations during the 42nd Annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture, held at the Newark Museum of Art.

Express Newark is under the new leadership of Salamishah Tillet as executive director and Nick Kline as creative director. Tillet, a 2022 Pulitzer Prize winner, is the Henry Rutgers Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing at Rutgers–Newark. Kline, associate professor in the Department of Arts, Culture, and Media at Rutgers–Newark, works in photography, artists’ books, installations, and socially engaged art. He is the founding director of Shine Portrait Studio in Newark.

A version of this story appeared in Rutgers Magazine, Summer 2022 edition.