Express Newark


Project for Empty Space

SCHEHERAZADE TILLET: BLACK GIRL PLAY, a solo exhibition of lens-based work by artist-activist Scheherazade Tillet. This exhibition is the culmination of several series by the artist created over five years in three locations – Chicago, Port of Spain, and Newark, NJ – in which the artist spent her childhood and/or worked. Building on her residency at New Arts Justice and Shine Portrait Studio at Express Newark, these collections are threaded together by the common exploration of the ways in which community tradition, playful interaction, and radical joy converge at various points in the lives of Black girls.

Tillet’s photographs in BLACK GIRL PLAY depict a variety of important moments in Black girls’ lives –  ranging from private play in the intimate setting of home to the pomp and circumstance of prom preparations to parading down the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad, during the Kiddies Carnival. Tillet’s photographs capture an air of rarely seen intimacy and comfort. The inner glow of each piece is directly linked to Tillet’s process and her ability to find points of empathy with each girl with whom she works. She is as much a caregiver and relationship-building as she is a photographer, and the relationships she develops with her collaborator/subjects resonate throughout each piece.

BLACK GIRL PLAY unfolds in the Project for Empty Space window gallery with an iteration of The Black Girlhood Altar (2021), a multimedia, artifact-based, video, and an object-based artwork that invites community members to give offerings in honor of missing and murdered Black girls and young women. In collaboration with artists Leah Gipson and Robert Narciso, The Black Girlhood Altar extends Tillet’s practice as an art therapist and an activist with the organization she founded, A Long Walk Home

The main exhibition space is divided into three distinct celebrations of Black girlhood. The first phase is a collection of photographs of Tillet’s niece, Seneca, from the ongoing series Eight (2020). The second phase of the exhibition features images from Kiddies Carnival (2020) that are inspired by the artist’s childhood in Trinidad. The final series included in the exhibition is a celebration of The Send-Off (2017), which is a longstanding Chicago tradition of preparation for young women who are going to prom. 

An important element of the exhibition is the radically beautiful resistance it presents against a historic American stereotype that robs Black girls of their childhood. Too often, Black girls are seen as sexual objects or treated as adults with a type of callous disregard for their joy and innocence. Tillet’s photographs frame Black girlhood in deliberate opposition to this violent apathy towards Black children. They remind us that joy and play are not only prevalent and normal but things to be preserved and validated.

Scheherazade Tillet: Black Girl Play was curated by Rebecca Jampol and Jasmine Wahi. 

Exhibition Hours: BLACK GIRL PLAY will be on view at 800 Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey, from Saturday, January 22, 2022, through Sunday, March 13, 2022, from Wednesday through Saturday, 11 am – 5 pm. 

Per CDC recommendations, all visitors are required to present proof of vaccination and wear a mask to enter the Project for Empty Space gallery.