Black History Month through the lens of our Soho House fellows
To mark the start of the special month, our creative community of fellows showcase their work and explain what it really means to them in 2023
Tuesday 31 January 2023 By Soho House. Top image by Dawoud Bey, 'A Woman and a Girl', 1988
February marks the beginning of Black History Month in North America and part of Europe, and this year we’re celebrating the occasion by reflecting on what the month means to Black creatives and the ways in which they illustrate this through their respective art.
Teaming up with the Soho House Fellowship programme, we asked our talented fellows to express what Black History Month looks like to them in the present day, alongside a piece of work inspired by this. Showcasing everything from poetry to photography and essays, we’ll be sharing their works over the next few weeks, starting with the below:
‘POND: PONDERING’ – a series of visual interviews by Dylan Reid
Soho House fellow Dylan Reid is a driven, disciplined and self-aware leader with a voracious appetite for creative spaces, entrepreneurship, social influence, and innovation. He captures and creates moments through media to build and elevate community and experiences.
‘POND: PONDERING’ is a short-form video interview series that sees him dive deeper into Toronto’s vast creative talent pool by bringing multiple individuals together and asking important, powerful and playful questions. In collaboration with Soho House x POND, he asks the Black creative community: ‘In 2023, what does Black History Month mean to you?’
A poem by Taylor K. Shaw
Taylor K. Shaw is a poet, essayist, TV and film writer, and award-winning media executive. Her newsletter, ‘Self-Portrait’, is an exploration of the practice of mirroring.
‘Black History Month is a reminder that Black people deserve daily respect and recognition. I do not wait for this month to celebrate our ancestors because they walk with me every day,’ says Shaw. ‘As I learn to talk with them, I hope that our communication leads to healing for them and myself. I take the opportunity this Black History Month and beyond to intentionally share space with my ancestors so that they may be heard and I might hear.’
Here, she shares a poem she wrote:
Summoning Ancestor #1
I close my eyes and
b r e a t h e
Suspended in the air
a man smiles on me
sweat and grease
hand on heart
on my back
pain in my chest
If I could but touch
If I could but feel
and unbarring begins
I must remember him
and the way he says without words
A visual story by Michelle Patterson
Michelle Patterson is an interdisciplinary interior designer, curator and consultant from New York City. In 2022, she founded Koi Design Studio, an interior design studio and art consultancy firm based between NYC and London, aiming to expand globally, and create design and consulting services to support the new generation of homeowners, designers, and art collectors. Here, she shares a series of works by Black photographers that shaped her idea of Blackness and Black history.
What Black History means to me through photography
The first time I saw a dark skinned girl on television who reflected a strongly similar narrative to my upbringing in New York City was in Spike Lee’s 1994 film, Crooklyn. Troy was a nine-year-old girl whose act of survival as a kid was just as paramount to any adult struggling to manage everyday life in the hood. I was around 11 years old when I saw this film on my grandmother’s TV screen. Like the many girls on my block, I knew Troy’s story. Where I grew up, we all did. Lee’s cinematic storytelling provided a candid, transparent and culturally rich perspective of Black girlhood that was authentic and honest. It wasn’t glamorised, nor was it stereotypical. The imagery of Black Americans’ everyday life demonstrates our culture’s creativity, talent and energy, which is, in fact, one of the most beautiful ways to depict the authenticity of Black joy.
Seeing the works of Dawoud Bey, Jamel Shabazz and Louis Draper often reminded me that representation was essential for the Black American experience. Their work reflects a timeline of inner-city triumph responding to political and social issues related to culture, family, history, and everyday life. Each artist brought a unique style to street photography, giving their subjects space to present themselves to the camera and the world. Bey, a photographer born in Queens, New York, once said, ‘I wanted to make photographs that affirmed the lives of ordinary Black people in the community that my mother and father had previously lived in.’ He created captivating, radical and reflective photographs that connected deeply with Black life in the Harlem communities that weren’t far from mine.
It‘s an image like Louis Draper’s ‘Untitled (Girl and fire hydrant)’, c. 1965, which brings me great nostalgia for when surviving the summer heat waves meant that the city’s pools remained overcrowded, so we uncapped the fire hydrants to beat the heat. When I see the images of the stylish young New Yorkers in the late 1980s and 1990s photographed by Jamel Shabazz, I am reminded of the pictures I saw in my grandmother’s photo album of the relatives in my family who all dressed to impress. From the doorknocker earrings and Cazal glasses to the valor suits and finger waves, it showed me that our styles were unique. These photographs represented an era of history, the rise of hip-hop and Black fashion culture. It was also the rise of new Black imagery, where for the first time, Black Americans controlled how they were seen in mass media and had the power to influence not only Black people but people of all races.
I often share the importance of my childhood with my family and friends reminding them and myself about the little girl from the West Bronx whose dreams and ambitions of seeing the world kept her up at night. In the words of the great late poet and rapper Tupac Shakur, I am the rose who grew from concrete, determined to create new stories for the future generations of Black girls. I aim to create awareness of the significant contributions of our culture through new forms of expression to inspire our young Black leaders of tomorrow. The intimacy of these images and a film like Lee’s showed me the beauty and importance of my people and culture.
By Jamel Shabazz. Above: Dawoud Bey, 'A Girl Eating a Hotdog', 1991
So, when someone asks, ‘What does Black History Month mean to me?’, I will respond like Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown did in a 1994 interview for MTV: ‘We need a Black History Year.’ Our history stretches far beyond the 28 days we get in the shortest month of the year to celebrate a culture that has impacted the society in which we live. So, for the remaining 306 days that make up an entire year, I will continue to celebrate the successes and progress of Black Americans of our past while recognising the work that’s still left to do for our future.
Check out our events page to see all the Black History Month events we're hosting at the Houses.