Contents:- Who Taught You To Love?
- Las Fotos Teens
- As-told-to or Text Only
[Image description: turquoise blue rectangle with the wood-blocked words “Who taught you to love?”]
Who Taught You To Love?
[Image description: photograph of a billboard with the phrase “Who taught you to love?” in a rural, green environment.]
Hank Willis Thomas
Love is a central theme that connects much of my work. I present the question, “Who taught you to love?” because it’s vital to understand how and who we love and care for. Can we create anything without love? These are important questions to reﬂect on. Our ideas of who is worthy of love are often shaped by the cultural messages we receive. We are inﬂuenced in ways we may not even notice by the media, popular culture, and advertising. I hope by raising these questions, people will think critically about the messages they receive from the images all around them every day.
[Image description: two acrylic and brightly colored screen-printed artworks using archival imagery of the artist’s grandmother, sitting in front of her home in a white chair, the other in a dress and wearing pearls.]
These are portraits of my grandmothers in their respective landscapes in Kingston, Jamaica, and West Palm Beach, Florida. They both went through so much just to be in these moments. There are countless stories I was never able to hear. My grandmothers were nurturing
and generous. They cooked the best food. And they raised a generation of Black children to be fierce, loving, independent, and kind.
[Image description: a black-and-white photograph of an elderly African American man (wearing a suit and tie) and woman (wearing a blazer, blouse, and skirt) seated in a church pew, smiling at the camera.]
Growing up, I was extremely close with my grandparents. I’ve always been taught to have the utmost respect for my elders and the wisdom they carry. Through the pandemic, so many of our intergenerational connections have been strained or severed. While making photographs in East Austin, I met the congregation of Willie Chapel Baptist Church, who had just resumed in-person services. The people of this church took in my partner and me. Their love and resilience shines in all they do.
[Image description: a photographic color collage consisting of multiple snapshots of the artist’s family, different generations, cut and arranged above a woman wearing a white dress holding her arms out.]
Adrian L. Burrell
Growing up, love was always a sacrifice. A thing I watched Black women give with their time, bodies, and dreams. I love you, so I’d kill for you; or, if you loved me, you’d be ready to die for me. Growing into love taught me something a little more nuanced about the generative possibilities of this verb. Love that lives for you, creates with you, and, if need be, lets you go.
[Image description: a family photograph of the artist sitting next to her mother and father, with her sister sitting on her father’s lap. They are seated in front of a fireplace, and handwriting over the top and bottom of the image reads, “My hearing parents learned sign language for my sister and me.”]
Christine Sun Kim
More than 90 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing babies are born to hearing parents, and few of them can meaningfully sign together. After my birth, my parents chose to learn sign language, and for that, I feel very loved. In an act of continued love, I am passing on our family language to my own kid.
[Image description: a bright mixed-media painting consisting of a photograph of three African soldiers candidly looking at the camera.]
I am an abstract painter, and as a Black man and an artist living now, I feel a need to incorporate the Black body in my work. To talk about our history, our legacy, our power. These figures are African soldiers who fought in the first and second World War. They fought against tyranny and white supremacy, and for equal justice and freedom.
Learning how to see beauty, understand it, and live with it taught me how to love. Beauty is love, and love is beautiful.
[Image description: a series of black-and-white photographs consisting of the artist as a child, his own child, the landscape that surrounds him, and a drawn black silhouette of the absence of his father, with handwriting by the author directed at his father, how he disappointed him, and the role model he wants to be to his own son.]
My father died for me when I was 7 years old. He was tall and had a black mustache and a camera hanging from his neck. At least that’s how I remember him. He died at alcohol’s hands, stuck in between his pain and desire to be a good man. He lived on for many years, but he died to me. I didn’t know then that he was teaching me how to love.
I’m 32 now, and my father passed from COVID just a few months ago. I’ve had to dig deep into my trauma, and transform, and heal. And understand my role as a father of my own son, Tonatiuh. His name means “the one that brings the light, the sun.” He is my greatest teacher. My prayer is that one day my descendants will feel the love that came through me. I’m a future ancestor, and this is what I have to share.
[Image description: a photograph showing the exterior of the artist’s home where she grew up, a red two-story apartment building, with cement in the foreground and a blue sky and trees on both sides of the building.]
The North Philadelphia home where I grew up — 2531 North 26th Street — was full of life and love. That’s because of my parents, Thomas Meredith Willis and Ruth Ellen Holman Willis.
My dad worked as a police officer in Philadelphia and owned a grocery store and redesigned homes in the neighborhood. An avid reader and serious amateur photographer, he encouraged me to use his camera to make family photographs. My mom ran her beauty shop in our home in the upstairs “kitchen,” where women and girls visited every day except Sundays and Mondays to prepare for work/cultural/spiritual life. I recall sitting in my mom’s shop as early as age 7, reading books and magazines and listening to the women talk for hours — church and clubwomen, singers and housewives, domestic workers and teachers, aunts and cousins. It was a safe space to just “be.” We were a close-knit family. My mom had 13 brothers and sisters, ten aunts and uncles, her parents, and grandparents. My dad had nine brothers and sisters. I had two sisters and more than 50 first cousins. We shared recipes and stories throughout our lifetime.
[Image description: three photographs consisting of three views of the artist’s grandmother’s hands holding jasmine blossoms.]
My grandmother (Teita) was born in Nazareth, Palestine. At 9 years old, with her 2-week-old sister in her arms, she was separated from her mother as they fled the 1948 occupation. Seven countries, six children, and 19 grandchildren later, the smell of jasmine still brings her memories of home.
My earliest memories of love include Teita’s hands handing me jasmine blossoms. She will always make sure the last thing you do before you leave her home is inhale the smell of jasmine. The scent of earth and jasmine from Teita’s hands is the scent of selfless, infinite love.
[Image descriptions: clockwise from top left, a black-and-white photograph of the artist’s older sister looking down at her hands in a backyard behind a net; a portrait of the artist’s partner, a young man lying in straw grass without his shirt, hand up in the air obstructing his face to the camera; the artist’s Asian grandfather reading a newspaper, unaware of the camera and photographed through glass, which shows reflections; the artist’s younger sister lying on colorful pillows on grass, looking at her reflection in a small black mirror.]
Las Fotos Teens
Ixchel Cruz, 15
My older sister taught me how to love. I consider her my twin because we’re so close, despite our age difference. She’s my number one role model. I’ve always looked up to her. I’m very lucky. I wouldn’t be where I am now, if it wasn’t for her.
Valeria Hernandez, 17
Depression and OCD have made my first relationship harder than expected. But I’ve learned so much about love dealing with mental illness. Just showing that you can love someone no matter the situation they’re in, no matter what they’re going through. And love someone when you don’t
feel your best. Just being there is love.
Gaby Salazar, 18
There are different kinds of love. The love of your best friend, your parents, your siblings, or your significant other. But I feel like self-love is the purest and most important form of love you can have. Because once you love yourself and you’re comfortable in your own skin, you’re going to be living life happily. I see my younger sisters. They’re so carefree and nonchalant about everything. They don’t care how they look, what they eat, what others think. They wouldn’t change a single thing about themselves. Except maybe learn how to fly or be the fastest person in the world. I’m still on that journey myself. To have that type of love that my sisters have with themselves and to be comfortable with myself and to love myself unconditionally. I think it’s important to stay on that journey no matter how long it takes.
Annie Son, 18
You can learn to love by learning what not to do. Learning acts of hatred, or witnessing something that makes you uncomfortable. And I think the “what isn’t” is just as important as “what is.” Because both define what you call love.
[Image description: two photography collages of silhouettes of a man’s face against a yellow background, and crops of a man’s body walking along the water.]
Sometimes through a person’s absence, you learn to love in a different way. By memorializing someone and holding onto their memory.
I was born at the height of the AIDS crisis. My uncle was a gay man like me. He died from complications of HIV when I was 3 years old. They buried him on his 37th birthday. I have no recollection of who he was. He was erased from our family photo album and our family history.
I barely knew anything about him. I knew he worked in Democratic politics in New York City. I know he was the only person in my family to go to college. I knew he really tried to make something of his life. I knew that he was gay and he wasn’t accepted in our Brooklyn Italian family.
I started to appropriate imagery and make collages that addressed that kind of erasure. Then the work went out into the world. My uncle’s partner found me. His best friend found me. And I filled in all the blanks. Where he would go dancing. Where he would hang out with his friends. And I got more pictures. I only had one. My father gave it to me right before I came out and we became estranged.
I have a sense of peace now. Knowing that my uncle was loved, that he was cared for by his chosen family.
[Image descriptions: black-and-white images of a self-portrait of the artist with her partner; her mother laughing with her aunt, looking up at the sky; and her mother with her partner, laughing and looking at the sky while in a pool.]
My mother, my friends, and my lover have all taught me love in the purest form.
[Image descriptions: an illustration of a character from a children’s book, showing a progression of the young girl adding layers to her body.]
Sundus Abdul Hadi
Last year I wrote and illustrated a book about a little girl named Shams, who is made of glass. One day she breaks into a million pieces, but with the help of her own imagination and the guidance of a healer, she transforms from a fragile little girl into a survivor. When I was going through some of my hardest times, like Shams, I had a couple of guides that really helped me through. One of them was my mother. She taught me this beautiful Surah from the Koran. It’s Surah Al-Sharh, the 94th Surah. The crux of the Surah is, “Verily, with every hardship comes ease.” This is something I felt really connected to. Just having that hope that no matter how hard things get, ease will follow.
[Image description: a photograph of a young boy resting on his father’s shoulders, who is kneeling, outside of their front door.]
Frankie is my only brother, and from the first moment of his existence in my life, he has taught me to love. Then Frankie gave me Louie, my nephew. Louie taught me how to love again after the darkest time in our life — the loss of our mother. Once, when Louie was around 7, I photographed him with his father. He started to get shyer around the camera. I told him I was back in school for photography and wanted my classmates to see my family. He sighed. “OK,” he said. “Just because I know you take pictures of Dad and me to show the world who you love.” He understood in his way. Recently, one of these pictures was acquired by a museum, and he was overwhelmed. I told him our story will never be forgotten. “Can I visit my picture when I am old?” he asked. “Your kids and your grandkids can see your picture when they are old,” I said. “Your photo is forever.”
As-told-to or Text Only
An Essay by Tre’vell Anderson
There’s nothing like a mother’s love, and it isn’t measured necessarily in hugs and kisses and huge pots of okra soup — though my mom, Melliony, provided those things, too. When I think about love, I think of her sacrifice: dropping out of college to take care of her kids, enlisting in the Army to escape the Lowcountry, biting her glorious tongue in the face of sexism and racism so the check she wrote for my piano lessons could clear. It’s tough to think about the ways her losses become our gains.
I am teaching myself to love, too, and how to be loved. How to love this Black, nonbinary, and trans vessel I was born into. How to be loved by folx I don’t share blood with. I’m teaching myself, with every fingernail I manicure, every dress I squeeze into, every heel I wear that I deserve to love and be loved despite the world around me trying to snuff out my brilliance. Because that’s part of what being trans is all about, a love otherwise. Love in spite of.
My family is not a mushy family. People show their care by their actions rather than flowery language. It’s people showing up for you in real and tangible ways. I was cleaning out my closet the other day, and I found a care package my dad sent me during quarantine. He found masks to send me. Those types of things. I’m going to send you a hazmat care package because you’re in the epicenter of the pandemic. I don’t remember my family being like, We really love you and we’re concerned about you. But they send masks. With family, it can be hard to give people the space to change. It’s hard for them to think of you as anything other than the child you once were. I try to stop myself from ever leaning into that type of thinking. They are constantly changing, and I’m constantly changing. Love is about being caught between those poles.
A Poem by Sister Peace
Death Taught Me to Love
On this journey with my brother as he slowly … transitions … returns I’m viscerally reminded to embrace the charnel ground of love
Death each day teaches me to love
Death not to be feared, but embraced
it’s only transition of the physical to the non
which is where “we” came from in the first place…
actually the last place
’cause we really came from the stars
stars that trek, the constant wars.
“My parents met in a peyote ceremony. My dad was a roadman in the Native American church. My mom was saved by Jesus in front of the TV by a televangelist. Growing up, it was clear
that our parents loved us, and maybe a notch above that was their love of God. That’s sort of the worldview I was raised in. The idea that the most important thing in the world is your love of God. And that can be a catastrophe if you’re experiencing a crisis of faith. That’s the place I found myself when I found fiction. I’d been reading religious texts and philosophy and psychology before I found Kafka, Borges, Clarice Lispector, and Robert Walser. They were all doing something kind of mysterious and powerful with language. I was drawn to fiction the same way that as a child I’d been drawn to something as big as God. It bred an intensity in me that, eventually, I learned to hone. It filled a giant hole that I didn’t even know what to do with.”
Sundus Abdul Hadi is an artist and writer who was born to Iraqi parents and raised and educated in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. Abdul Hadi’s transmedia work is a sensitive reflection on trauma, struggle, and care. She is the author/illustrator of Shams, a children’s book about trauma, transformation, and healing, and the book Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation. Abdul Hadi’s work has been exhibited in Palestine, Canada, the U.S., France, the U.K., and New Zealand.
Tre’vell Anderson is an award-winning freelance journalist, social curator, and world changer who always comes to slay! Named to The Root’s 2020 list of the 100 most influential African Americans, they have dedicated their career to centering those in the margins, gray spaces, and at the intersections of life through a pop culture lens. Anderson is co-host of the culture podcast FANTI.
Nour Batyne is a New York–based creative producer, facilitator, and educator. She founded Disruptivist, a global community of artists working to amplify the power of the arts as a tool for social change and innovation with the mission to challenge and transform the status quo. Batyne currently serves as an associate instructor in the M.S. in Nonprofit Management program at Columbia University and is a member of the Wide Awakes, an open-source network that radically reimagines the future through creative collaboration.
Brit Bennett’s debut novel, The Mothers, was a New York Times bestseller, and her second novel, The Vanishing Half, was an instant No. 1 New York Times bestseller. In 2021, she was chosen as one of Time’s Next 100 Influential People. Her essays have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.
Maryv Benoit is a 23-year-old photographer and performance artist based in Brooklyn, New York. MaryV focuses on the documentation of self-identity, bodies, intimacy, compassion, relationships, sexuality, and self-love. She has shot campaigns for clients such as Calvin Klein and Google, remaining true to her mission of creating mindful and inclusive representation for her community.
Adrian L. Burrell is a storyteller who uses photography, film, and site-specific installation to examine issues of race, class, gender, and intergenerational dynamics. His series Mama’s Babies traces his family’s history through slavery, the Great Migration, the crack era, and the current displacement of Black people in Oakland through gentrification. A United States Marine Corps veteran, Burrell earned an MFA from Stanford’s Department of Art & Art History.
Modou Dieng was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal. He is a multidisciplinary artist whose work constructs a mural of archetypal cultural imagery filtered through the perspective of an identity split between Blackness and African philosophy. Dieng has exhibited internationally and is the co-founder of Blackpuffin, a curatorial company based in Chicago.
Rahim Fortune is a fine-art photographer from the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma and is currently based in Texas and New York. His work focuses on self-identity and human connection within the landscape of modern America.
Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. is an American printer, book artist, and papermaker best known for social and political commentary, particularly in printed posters.
Christine Sun Kim is an American artist based in Berlin. Working predominantly in drawing, performance, and video, Kim’s practice considers how sound operates in society, deconstructing the politics of sound and exploring oral languages as social currency. She further uses sound to explore her own relationship to verbal languages and her environment. She is represented by François Ghebaly Gallery in Los Angeles and White Space Beijing in Beijing.
Las Fotos Project was founded in 2010 to elevate the voices of teenage girls from communities of color. It is a community-based nonprofit organization that offers year-round programming, providing girls with access to professional cameras, quality instruction, and workshops that encourage them to explore their identity, build leadership and advocacy skills, and strengthen their well-being. Ixchel Cruz is a 15-year-old photographer from Los Angeles. They are a sophomore attending Eagle Rock High School and use photography as a way to capture moments that tell a bigger story. Through their love for storytelling, they hope to spread awareness about social justice topics. Valeria Hernandez is a 17-year-old photographer based in Los Angeles. She has a strong passion for portraiture that captures and challenges ideas of femininity, and she hopes to pursue a career where she can use her photography to challenge society’s expectations of who can and should be represented in the media. Gaby Salazar is an 18-year-old L.A.-based photographer from El Salvador. She began exploring photography during the pandemic of 2020 to stay grounded but grew to love and appreciate the art for its ability to showcase her storytelling. Outside of her love for photography, she is pursuing a law degree to become an immigration lawyer. Annie Son is an 18-year-old photographer based in Los Angeles. She draws inspiration from minute occurrences to social uprisings; using photographs as a means of storytelling, she hopes to share and immortalize the history of various communities. Son’s goal is that her journalism will become the bridge between generations of people to come.
Star Montana is a photo-based artist who was born and raised in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, which serves as the backdrop to much of her work. Her work has recently been exhibited at Charlie James Gallery, Residency Art Gallery, and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Montana will be an artist-in-residence at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2022.
Tommy Orange is an American novelist and writer from Oakland, California. His first book, There There, was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and received the 2019 American Book Award. Orange is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations of Oklahoma.
Josué Rivas is an Indigenous Futurist, creative director, visual storyteller, and multidisciplinary artist. His work aims to challenge the mainstream narrative about Indigenous peoples and serve as a vehicle for collective healing. He is a 2020 Catchlight Leadership Fellow, Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow, founder of the INDÍGENA, co-founder of Indigenous Photograph, and curator at Indigenous TikTok.
Adee Roberson is an interdisciplinary artist whose work offers a refracted timeline of Black diasporic movement, weaving sonic and familial archives with landscape, rhythm, and spirit. This visual language is a way to process the viscerality of grief, celebration, trauma, and healing. She has exhibited and performed at numerous venues, including Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Project Row Houses, Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, MOCA Los Angeles, and Art Gallery of Ontario.
Pacifico Silano is a lens-based artist exploring print culture, the circulation of imagery, and LGBTQ identity. Exhibitions of his work include the Bronx Museum of The Arts, Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and Fragment Gallery in Moscow. He has been awarded the Aaron Siskind Foundation’s Individual Photographer’s Fellowship, Finalist for the Aperture Foundation Portfolio Prize, and the 2019 Bronx Museum of The Arts Block Gallery Residency. His work is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art.
Sister Peace spent five years in government work before realizing that something was missing. Feeling spiritually bereft, she began practicing at the Washington Mindfulness Community where she encountered the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. In 2006, she relocated to the Plum Village Monastery in France, where she was ordained a Buddhist nun.
Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. He’s a co-founder of For Freedoms and the Wide Awakes, artist-led organizations dedicated to fostering creative civic engagement, discourse, and direct action.
Deborah Willis is an artist, author, and curator. Her art and pioneering research has focused on cultural histories envisioning the Black body, women, and gender. She is a celebrated photographer, acclaimed historian of photography, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow, and university professor and chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.