Zucot Gallery's exhibit 'Presence' celebrates Black fatherhood

"Andre" by artist Chanell Angeli. (Courtesy of Zucot Gallery)

Relationships with fathers can be complex and layered. Black fatherhood in America may even carry an extra layer of unresolved trauma dating back to enslavement in this country. A new art exhibition on the subject titled “Presence: A Celebration of Black Fatherhood” is on view at the Zucot Gallery through Aug. 14. The show represents a living illustration of its own theme, as its featured African-American artists include Aaron Henderson, the father of two Zucot Gallery curators, Omari and Onaje Henderson. Father and sons joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the artwork and themes in the show.

Interview highlights:

Featured artist Aaron Henderson on painting emotions:

“I am a narrative artist, so I’m working from stories, and it was hard not to make the work that was created kind of autobiographical,” said Aaron. “One of my pieces is called ‘Songs from My Father,’ that deals with music, and how my father would come home, he would put on some music and relax and get himself a beer … Then there’s another painting that … is actually three paintings, that deals with ‘Pieces of a Man,’ and it talks about the joy of fatherhood, and also the rage and the sadness that can go along with it, and it’s loosely based on a song by Gil Scott-Heron.”

On creative fathers and growing up immersed in art:

“We were always around it,” recalled Omari. “My dad … is an engineer as Onaje and I are. We all have engineering degrees. And when he came home from work when we were kids, he would go to his studio, which was in our garage, and he would paint. That was his way of relieving the stress from the day, from calming down, from relaxing; that was his outlet. And so, for us, it was very normal to see that. I think as we got older, we realized that that wasn’t a normal thing in everyone’s household … Our parents, our mom, and our dad actually encouraged us to explore creativity throughout our entire lives.”

He added, “It’s funny because now with my kids, I’m actually doing the same thing. I’m ensuring they attend plays. They go and see True Colors [Theatre Company] plays or they attend the High Museum. They spend a lot of time at Zucot Gallery. I’m trying to make sure that they’re also immersed in that same culture because I think it really just makes us very well rounded when we can really have this infusion of arts into our lives.”

On the oft-overlooked lived experiences of Black fathers:

“I think the art in this exhibit … shows all of the emotions that go into being a Black father or a Black man in America, and I think the one thing that we tend to see in the media is usually anger,” said Omari. “What we’re able to show is that that is true — there is some of that. There is some anger, but there’s also this joy, and there’s also this sense of being a protector and provider for your family, and the exhibit is able to really take those aspects and really shine a light on those other things that we don’t typically see in the media today.”

Onaje added, “One piece, in particular, I’m thinking about is by Charlotte Riley-Webb, and it’s called ‘It’s in the Waiting,’ and it’s just the image of a father and a child fishing. And what she’s talking about in this piece is that it’s not about the actual catching fish. It’s that time you spend while waiting and that time you get with one another … We’re seeing these stories and this evidence of these men who have been present, who have shown up, who have loved their children. And I think this is actually more of a narrative that’s probably more true than not, versus what society or what media tries to show.”

“Presence: A Celebration of Black Fatherhood” is on view at Zucot Gallery and online in Zucot’s virtual gallery through Aug. 14. More information is available at www.zucotgallery.com/current-exhibition