The clarity and direct engagement of Question Bridge: Black Males both belies and amplifies the complexity and vitality of the subject matter. The work was previously shown at Millbrook in 2018 and is now in the permanent collection. The current Warner Gallery exhibition of Question Bridge: Black Males is comprised of five video monitors showing footage of Black men culled from thousands of interviews of hundreds of Black men across America.
Chris Johnson, the creator and co-director of Question Bridge: Black Males, envisioned a platform through which Black men could candidly discuss their experiences of life in America by indirectly questioning and responding to other Black men. By engaging primarily with a video camera, the interview subjects can speak more freely on issues of race, identity, history, education, and other aspects of Black male identity. “If you make a safe space for a person to be honest,” said Mr. Johnson, “they will use that opportunity to express values and questions and answers that are really important and otherwise aren’t shared.
The work runs three hours in its entirety but is equally impactful when viewed in smaller portions. The video screens in the Warner Gallery are installed at a slight elevation before a group of chairs. Art Department Chair Sarah MacWright said the idea of “a sacred space, like a church or meeting house” was intentional. Viewers consider the subjects with s sense of reverence and the setting also allows space for reflection.
Mr. Johnson collaborated with Hank Willis Thomas and Bayete Ross Smith, two of his former Cal College of the Arts photography students to capture footage and assemble the project. The videos are presented so that the men seem to be conducting a conversation among themselves while revealing elemental truths about the experience of Black men in America. “All these men happen to be black,” said Mr. Smith, “but they are talking about things that everyone talks about. So these questions aren’t so much black male questions, they are very human questions.”
“Any monolithic idea we have of who Black men are is immediately defeated when you see the amazing range of different values and lifestyles,” said Mr. Johnson. Question Bridge: Black Males demands that viewers unflinchingly examine their own biases, fears, and misconceptions about Black men while listening to their words, hearing their voices, and looking into their eyes.
By acquiring and showing the entire work, Millbrook strengthens its commitment to amplify Black voices on campus and to encourage the use of Question Bridge in curricula and in discussion. Elements of the work are already being used in history classes, and faculty advisors are being strongly encouraged to visit the exhibit with advisees. Some members of the Millbrook School community members visited the 2018 exhibition frequently and made interaction with the work part of their school routine. Millbrook joins the Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture, the Harvey Gantt Center, and the Oakland Museum in adding Question Bridge to its permanent collection.