Bobby Rogers: The Blacker the Berry

Review by Mara Duvra

Public Functionary
Oct 21–Nov 25, 2017

“The Blacker the Berry” is presented by Public Functionary, a northeast gallery known for the diversity of voices it highlights in the Twin Cities art community. Spanning the room in a series of ten, 36 x 48 glossy, color saturated photographs, Bobby Rogers’ work quickly and deliberately announces its presence. The proud, stoic faces of his subjects loom deeply silent in the black and white gallery, with their color almost vibrating off the wall. Each image portrays its figures draped in elegant embroidered fabric, intricate and brightly colored. One of the first things I notice about the work is the whiting out of each subject’s eyes, and I stop short. Walking through the exhibit, this erasure lingers, growing more unsettling.

Rogers’ exhibition sets up an aesthetically brilliant display of black identity as one of resilient dignity, royal ancestry, and opulent beauty. The figures are young, with lofty postures and facial expressions that linger between stoic and resolute. It is with these aesthetic choices the subjects in these photographs begin to lose their individuality and in essence the weight of tender, flawed humanity.

This exhibition simultaneously works to highlight and distance these figures as far from slavery as possible, reveling in a contemporary context of humanity beyond the indignity of captivity, however also veering into a realm that is so slick, so considered that they become unreadable, their emotions become flattened and one is left hinting at what other shades of emotion can be present past the general splendor. This visual method of self fashioning / an attempt to simultaneously consider and blight out the context of systems of oppression leave these beautifully cloaked figures in a liminal space of what is lost and regained.

What happens when what is removed is the most essential element to understanding, to the overall reimagining of these figures: to see blackness as corporeal, as intricately layered, as diverse, and wide ranging as it is.

In this surreal aesthetic Rogers’ conceptual portraits excel at creating a space for alternative narratives surrounding blackness. Consider, what is it lacking when blackness is continually imaged and depicted in relation to opposition, to have your body be a signifier for injustice?

“I communicate all aspects of my self-hood through my photography in an effort to similarly elevate and explore their identities and histories.” – Bobby Rogers

The work of self definition is vital in contemporary art especially surrounding social and political issues of race and institutionalized racism. There is so much that is left unsaid and so much suggested when using black bodies in visual art. What I see in Rogers’ work is the beginning of an exploration in black subjectivity that is seeking to enact visual and conceptual modes of working to image black futurity.