Want to Know What Your Ancestors Look Like? Black Image Center Has You Covered

A pop-up event from Oct. 22-24 encourages people to cherish and preserve their family’s old photos

What do your ancestors look like? That’s the question that the Black Image Center, a local collective of Black visual artists, is posing ahead of their first pop-up event taking place this weekend in the Leimert Park Village.

From Oct. 22 to 24, the non-profit organization—which offers free and low cost photography services to Black image makers—is inviting people to bring photos of their loved ones to learn how to preserve their family’s history. Professional archivists from The Gates Preserve will be on site to offer free one on one consultations to Black families exclusively to digitize images; provide prints of images already stored on a phone, digital camera, or external hard-drive/USB; and rehouse damaged or deteriorating photos.

“White families have like wings at museums and all of these other services that are a little more readily available to them as far as the archiving, but a lot of Black people are just in survival mode and aren’t thinking about preserving their family photos,” said Maya Mansour, a founding member of the Black Image Center.

The purpose of the Black Family Archive event, which is being held in partnership with Converse and an artist-led organization known as For Freedoms, is to celebrate the Black legacy of the Leimert Park neighborhood and the history of Black culture through imagery. The organizers also strove to inspire people to think of their family’s archives as visual history that can be used as a tool for art and storytelling, rather than just something that is just stored away in a scrapbook or photo album.

“The family archive is really the first time that we’re able to see ourselves reflected in imagery through the photos that we have of ourselves as children, our parents, their parents, or aunts, and uncles, so on and so forth,” Mansour said.

She added, “We really wanted to create something where people could come and then leave feeling like they are excited about their family archive, and they’re excited to take care of it. And they feel this increased sense of capacity to have ownership over it, and steward it and pass it down to the next generation.”

The pop-up event, which is free and open to the public, will also feature various activations throughout the weekend including live music from local performers and a children’s workshop in which kids ages five to 10 will be given a Polaroid camera to take portraits of their family members. The non-profit will be offering attendees one free roll of film or a disposable camera from their “film fridge”—while supplies last—in an effort to make film photography more accessible, Mansour said.

Adee Roberson, an L.A.-based interdisciplinary artist who has been using her family’s images as the foundation of her artwork since she was a child, will also be debuting a mural she created in partnership with For Freedoms and Converse’s “Hear Her Here” initiative, which highlights Black femme artists. The colorful mural, which depicts portraits of Black people that Roberson pulled from archival photos at a library, is currently on display behind the Community Build office, at the corner of 43rd Street and Degnan Boulevard, where the pop-up event is also taking place.

Photo Courtesy of For Freedoms

Roberson will also be hosting an artist talk Saturday afternoon to discuss her process for translating family portraits into her artwork, which ranges from paintings to murals.

Roberson, who has been collecting her family’s portraits for years, said she hopes people leave the event understanding the importance of documenting their history. She encourages people to ask their family members about their ancestors and unidentified people in old photos, and take notes about who they are “so that the stories don’t disappear.”

In addition to preserving visual Black history, Mansour said that looking at archives from your ancestors can also reveal new things about your own family history.

“I really do feel like every time I go through my family archive, I see a picture that I haven’t seen before and it just totally changes the way that I see my family. Or if I do know the person and I’ve gotten a chance to meet them, it changes the way that I see them because I’m seeing them in a totally new way,” she said.

Mansour added, we’re reminding people “if you have family photos, you have photos of your ancestors and its just a really material way that you can connect with someone [who] maybe isn’t alive, but is still rooting for you from the other side and its just such a tangible way [to connect] that really no one can take away from you.”

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