‘Presence’ art exhibit in Atlanta puts spotlight on Black fatherhood

Presence art exhibit
Aaron Henderson, Troy Taylor and Onaje Henderson (left to right) pictured at the ZuCot Gallery in Atlanta. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

The curators behind an art collection this summer at the ZuCot Gallery in Atlanta hope to change the narrative about Black fatherhood.

“I think the word ‘presence’ kind of ties it up – that Black fathers are present in their family’s lives,” said Troy Taylor, founding partner of the gallery, which is billed as the largest African-American-owned fine art gallery in the southeast.

“If you think about it, being a man, being a Black man out there in the world, there’s a lot of pressures; you go through a lot of emotions – anger, joy, frustration. You go through a lot of pressures in terms of economic or social,” said Taylor. ”Despite all of that, my experience and the experience of the vast majority of friends and colleagues is that their fathers were there for them.”

Onaje Henderson agrees. He, along with his brother Omari, are partners at the ZuCot Gallery.

“Like the CDC has these statistics that talk about how Black fathers are actually in their children’s life at higher rates than other groups. But news and everywhere else says that we are the least,” said Onaji Henderson. “And we also want to also deal with some of the ideas around mental health around Black men and just having a whole conversation, because a lot of these topics are ignored, even in our community.”

He says the idea for the collection came through conversations with artists the gallery has featured in the past.

“In January or February this year, we began to have a conversation about what we could do in June as we re-opened after Covid for an exhibition and the idea of having a show that focused on fathers and fatherhood – particularly Black fathers came about,” said Henderson.

The Hendersons’ father, Aaron, is among those artists whose paintings are part of the Presence exhibit. The elder Henderson says he was excited but ‘a little apprehensive’ when he was first approached about the project. He says it made him think a lot about his father – who died decades ago.

“One of the pieces I put in the show is called Dad’s Hats, and I just have a collection of hats that men would wear and they’re all piled on top of each other,” said Henderson. “It reminded me of my father because he always had a hat.”

The exhibit also made Henderson think about his experience as a father to his two sons. “Dealing with that whole issue with Black boys in America and being a Black father in America and all of those things – all that kind of led into me developing what I was going to do for the show,” he said.

The ZuCot Gallery partnered with Microsoft to develop a virtual representation of the gallery.

“They make it really plain that they want to help enhance our business,” said Aaron Henderson. “So it’s not the type of thing that they put their name on it and now it becomes ‘Microsoft’s project’, they said ‘no’ we want to give you the tools to be able to do more of what you’re doing already.”

The exhibition is set to run through August 14th. You can hear more about Presence during Monday’s episode of City Lights with Lois Reitzes.