Every day it is a natural inclination for humans to have a question and seek an answer for it.
Some questions might come across as trivial and silly, and others may dig deeper into one’s life and purpose. And some may help to unify and unfurl decades of preconceived notions.
That is goal of the exhibition "Question Bridge: Black Males" on view at the Missouri History Museum. Through of series of unscripted questions and answers from one black man to another, artist and co-creator Chris Johnson and co-creators Bayeté Ross-Smith, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kamal Sinclair went across the country asking black men of all ages what they thought – and what kept them curious. They would record one man asking a question, and then take that recorded question to another man for an answer, creating a free and open dialogue for men to be themselves.
“Because they weren’t in each other’s presence, they were willing to ask really tough and provocative questions that had always been on their mind,” says Johnson of the four years of work that resulted in over 1500 vocal exchanges. Questions ranged from community impact, life guidance, and the nature of black male identity. “I realized that asking questions is a really powerful way to have people disclose things that they don’t know about the other but also solicit information. So I thought ‘Well if I simply put them in separate places and just use videotape as a way to get them to ask the questions that are so much on their hearts, maybe people would be willing to be more frank and more open.”
Johnson feels the exhibit goes beyond just a q and a, but can also be seen as a form of therapy and healing. “Both sides of the Question Bridge process are healing participants. Black men who see it get a chance to witness this faux-conversation, and those who see it hear both questions and answers that they carry in their lives expressed in a public, very elegant, formal way. We hope that non-African Americans…come away with different impressions than they would have had of black men. And I think that creates a different environment for black men to be themselves.”
Question Bridge: Black Males is on view through April 20.