By Coshandra Dillard
Shronica Holmes, 35, showed up at the corner of College Avenue and Fourth Street Saturday afternoon to photograph young girls, and they had company.
Despite the rain, tens of people met there to celebrate black representation in art. On that corner is a depiction of “Hide and Seek,” a vibrant and colorful motif featuring a white boy and black girl on opposite sides of an electrical box.
It’s part of an effort to infuse art throughout the City of Tyler through the Beauty and the Box program, which allows local artists to create a design to be featured on traffic electrical boxes. So far, there are 10 wrapped boxes around the city.
Artist April Moore created the most talked about piece, which honors the innocent play between two children. It seemed appropriate enough, as it is near Bergfeld Park, a popular site for children’s activities. The side with the black girl’s image, playfully hiding behind her fingers, faced the home of a resident who complained.
“It just seems a little too modern for this neighborhood,” the resident told KETK last week.
Holmes, a Tyler native and photographer who now lives in Houston, took notice of the story about the complaints, which will lead to the eventual removal of the art.
Stephanie Franklin, managing director of Culture, Recreation and Tourism with the City of Tyler, said the “Hide and Seek” wrap will be moved to a box near The Children’s Park, on the corner of East Dobbs Street and Broadway Avenue.
“They have a home for it, which is good,” Holmes said.
The city is also considering placing these boxes in commercial areas only, since it may garner complaints by homeowners in residential areas.
Moore, who is championing the effort to have more art throughout the city, was disappointed that the piece, which had been there only three weeks, will be moved.
The photo opportunities was only supposed to be for family and friends, but as Holmes’ post about the complaint grew on Facebook, others decided to show up in support.
Holmes said the event on Saturday wasn’t to prove anything to residents there, but instead, give young people a chance to celebrate seeing themselves and being represented in city-approved art.
“It’s not a lesson for them,” Holmes said. “It’s strictly for the people who are showing up … I don’t want to focus on what’s wrong. They are what’s wrong. You can’t change a mindset like that. People don’t change people. It never occurred to me to prove something to them… I don’t want to give (the resident who complained) any more energy.”
Holmes said she wants the gathering to spur community building, not division. And people of different races and backgrounds did show up.
“I strongly believe in teaching what is right,” she said. “Lets work with what we have, build on strength instead of weaknesses.”
She added, “My hope is that I take a picture of little girls beside the box, and one day show that something good came from this. Who knows, one day it may be a common thing to see something like that in that area.”
WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS
The topic of the electrical box stirs a conversation about representation and acknowledging diversity. Those who support Holmes say it’s important for black children to see themselves in every facet of life. Saturday’s event was about more than the picture on a box.
It’s a subject that has been a focus of discussion for decades, particularly in recent years, as evidenced by the growing voices for Hollywood to reflect the diversity of its audiences.
Last week, PBS aired Africa’s Great Civilizations, a six-part series that explores 100,000 years of history on the African continent.
Among the breathtaking views of Africa, viewers got to see the origins of writing, civilizations, and yes, art.
In the series, Henry Louis Gates, Jr spoke with experts and scholars who referred to early African artists as “genius” and noted they made life-like sculptures in such as way that captured the human spirit.
Fast forward to Western civilization today, and much of that artistic genius has been erased. Students rarely learn about or see the art and culture of early Africans as well as modern-day achievements by African Americans in school or through texts on their own.
That erasure leaves black people feeling they have no representation. With no representation, it is assumed they had little or no contribution to society. Studies have shown that if not represented in art, in music, in printed images, and on film, it spurs stereotypes and can decrease self-esteem.
Moore was unable to attend the short event Saturday, but expressed gratitude late that evening for the outpouring of support for her work.