An enthusiastic crowd came out on May 24 for the debut screening of “The Triptych” at the Brooklyn Museum. The film’s screening was part of the Brooklyn Museum’s “Thursdays @ 7” program, presented in association with the Weeksville Heritage Center.
The documentary, produced by Afro-Punk Pictures, profiles three Black visual artists: Wangechi Mutu, Sanford Biggers and Barron Claiborne. In the film, directed by Terence Nance, each of the artists talk directly into the camera, explaining their artistic vision.
The performance, installation and sculpture artist Biggers talked about having grown up in Los Angeles in the 1980s, coming from a time and place where being smart and being a Black Nationalist were both in style. Biggers explained that his art is an effort to “rewrite and re-right history,” particularly as it pertains to the popular depictions of Black people.
Mutu was born in Kenya. An artist and sculptor, she explained her admiration for her parents but also her understanding of all that they had to give up in order to advance in Kenyan society. Mutu’s parents were of a generation that had to adopt Christianity if they wanted to succeed. As a result, they gave up their connections with Kenya’s traditional Kikuyu religion. Mutu has used her Kenyan roots to meld with a U.S.-based understanding of womanhood and African ancestry.
For Claiborne, it was important to talk about his past work as a director of music videos. Directing these videos and often shooting stills of musical acts for magazines, he says he often found the work too racially predictable. He became bored with the lack of complexity he was constantly asked to depict. Claiborne wanted his photographs of Black men to display dignity and strength, not to be just simply degrading. When he photographs women, Claiborne is trying to show their essence, their smartness and their strength.
Claiborne said he sees these characteristics as fundamental in all of his subjects, no matter their ethnicity. “But if you’re a Black photographer,” Claiborne noted, “people don’t expect you to shoot certain things because people don’t think of you as a universal person.”
That’s part of what “The Triptych” is meant to portray–it’s a look at three culturally rooted Black artists who are also “universal,” or able to create art outside of their Blackness. The film is an attempt to document how Mutu, Claiborne and Biggers have been able to make art that is both “universal” as well as intensely focused on how Black lives are lived today.