By Sym Posey
The Birmingham Times
When a diverse group of creative minds gathered this spring in various locations throughout the Birmingham metro area to highlight local artists and Black-owned businesses “a spirit of community unification” was planted.
On Friday Dec. 8, The Black Cherry Tree Project (TBCTP) will host its second annual exhibition at Gallery Vox, 1623 Pinson St., Birmingham AL 35217, with an opening reception from 6-8 p.m.
TBCTP collaborated in 2021 with the Jefferson County Memorial Project to memorialize 33 African Americans who were lynched in Jefferson County between the mid to late 1800’s and the mid 1900’s.
“When we look at the history of lynching, it has always been a public act. It’s always been a way to demonstrate dominance,” said Carey Fountain, Co-Founder of The Black Cherry Tree Project. “Is there a way we can use art to create conversation to insure we create a better future? That’s how the idea started. It quickly evolved, we quickly realized we had a lot of ideas on how the project could be.”
At the reception, artists will showcase pieces that aim to engage and move the audience. The exhibition will run until January 14, 2024, and is free and open to all. Performative Art Pieces will be performed December 15 at The Greenhouse in Ensley, Birmingham, Alabama.
A total of six community led conversations were held before the project became “the real deal,” said Fountain, creator of Vibes & Virtues, an interactive art event, which has filled numerous venues throughout the Birmingham area since 2016. “And we just asked questions about how the project should be … a big bulk of the project is the conversations that helped shaped the project.”
At the start of the new year, 33 commemorative black cherry tree saplings will also be planted across Birmingham in accessible locations. “The idea was a symbol of lynching, but also a symbol of life, new legacy,” said Fountain. “These living memorials will serve as a lasting tribute, complemented by markers and QR codes that reveal the stories of the individuals they honor as well as links to the artwork created in their honor.”
The Black Cherry Tree Project is helping lead the hard conversations by “creating a safe space for dialogue and conversation we don’t normally talk about,” said Micah Briggs, 25, a Hoover native and one of 12 artists participating in this year’s exhibition.
“In Birmingham, we go about our everyday lives walking through history. You can feel it when you visit certain areas that something happened here, but we don’t talk about it… Bringing these stories to life is so important because it acknowledges a life and their sacrifice while also bringing up the conversations about who we were as a community.”
She continued, “A lot of things have changed in society and in some ways a lot of things have taken on a new face, so they are disguised. These are difficult conversations, and we don’t always like to have them but using the art component allows you to feel, see, and experience someone else’s journey within our own collective experience and history in a new way. A way that’s safe and comfortable being uncomfortable. “
Here’s some of that other artists had to say:
Sarah Adkins, 30, third-year medical student at Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine: “I have a pretty rich legacy of racist running through my family. I’m a part of a legacy that was not just on the wrong side of history, but actively were perpetrators. I’m distantly related to Edmund Pettus, whose name is on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Edmund Pettus himself actively endorsed slavery, which has perpetuated the divisions that we see currently [not only in] Alabama, but across the world.
“And so with that, I think that I have a responsibility to learn from the Black perspective, but also change the narrative that has come from families like my own. I will never fully understand what it’s like to be a Black American, I will never fully understand what it would have been like to be like the victim that I’m commemorating, Miss Elizabeth Lawrence, to fear for your life at the hands of white people, [but] the more that I learn, the more I can distance myself, and even change the narrative of what it’s like, for people like me … from a legacy of racism, and active persecution. I can change the narrative of what it actually looks like to be a part of these changes and these discussions.”
Kyndal Williams,22, a senior at The University of Alabama:
“At first, I thought it was just going to be majority people of color (POCS) but a lot of the people who took part in the cohort are non-POCs. It allows [us to have] those hard talks and allows us to educate people who don’t look like me. A lot of people have these assumptions about Black life but with these conversations we are having, and questions we are asking, we are providing background information on Black life but also hearing their [whites] side on why they think the way that they think too. It allows us to see the disconnect so we can have an honest and open conversation about race.”
Pia Muhihu, 27, responsible for the “For the Culture Mural” located at 312 16th Street North:
“As a Kenyan and member of the Kikuyu tribe, I was hoping to come into this [project] to learn how to be able to tell stories about my people and our culture because we have lost a lot of our history and stories. A lot of them are marred by colonialism and genocide that have been performed on my great- grandparents… I came in [asking] how do we have these difficult conversations? What does it look like to make artwork that pushes this topic forward in a meaningful way?
“We were able discuss how to honor a Black life in this day in age with respect while also being accountable for what has happened in some way or form. I think in having these meetings with different people with different backgrounds and economic levels was beautiful and [felt] very safe to be vulnerable” said Muhihu.
For more information about The Black Cherry Tree Project, please visit: Instagram: @blackcherrytreeproject Facebook: /blackcherrytreeproject Website: blackcherrytreeproject.com