And I’m Feeling Good, Relaxation and Resistance |  Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH

BY Briana Ellis-Gibbs, May 1, 2024

The definition of joy varies as much as the people experiencing it. And I’m Feeling Good, Relaxation and Resistance, on view earlier this spring and curated by Alisa Swindell, the museum’s first photography curator, offered a unique perspective on joy. Swindell, who took the exhibition’s title from the Nina Simone song (Feeling Good), centers the lives of Black people through music and photographs, defining joy as the ability to seek happiness in the otherwise mundane moments of life.

Gordon Parks, Untitled, Alabama, 1956, printed 2022. Courtesy Hood Museum of Art

Images from artists including Gordon Parks, Chester Higgins, James Van Der Zee, and Irene Fertik captured and conveyed moments of happiness and peace in seemingly uneventful daily routines. Garry Winogrand’s Mother and Child (1975) conveys a warm moment between a stylish Black mother and her equally stylish child walking down the street. In addition to capturing their almost nonchalant elegance, the image pushes against the stereotypes that Black children are often left alone to navigate the world. 

The exhibition also includes portraits by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell and Jess T. Dugan. Terell’s DeAndre as Hydrangea (2016), from his series Hivyo Tètè (which means “so fragile” in Swahili), depicts a close up of a young Black man gazing past a bouquet of light green Hydrangeas. Dugan’s Collin at Sunset (2020) shows a young Black man peacefully laying down in a field of tiny purple flowers. Both photographs show their subjects partaking in rest and relaxation without the apprehension often experienced by the Black community. The images reveal the happiness that comes with being one’s authentic self, despite the risks faced by Black queer individuals like O’Shae Sibley, whose murder underscores the dangers of such authenticity.

Kwame Brathwaite, Changing Times, 1973, printed 2021. Courtesy Hood Museum of Art

The Hood Museum is nestled in Hanover, New Hampshire, where the Black population is a mere 4.7 percent, according to last year’s census report, and this exhibition amplifies the importance of seeing Black joy as it is rarely seen in popular culture and art history.  Swindell also curated an accompanying playlist on Spotify, which includes artists such as Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder, adding another layer of joy, and another sensory aspect, to the experience of viewing the exhibition. While a deeper exploration of intergenerational bonds between Black men and boys – seen in Andre Wagner’s image of a Black man holding a young boy on a bike, for example – could have enhanced the exhibition’s narrative, it successfully celebrated small moments of happiness and peace within the Black community.