Theaster Gates, The Black Image Corporation
AN INSTALLATION OF THE PUBLICATION BY the artist GATHERING THE ARCHIVES OF THE MAGAZINES JET AND EBONY
In 2018, the conceptual artist, archivist, and jazz musician Theaster Gates published The Black Image Corporation on the occasion of his eponymous exhibition at Fondazione Prada, Milan. A few years earlier, Gates had been granted use of a selection of more than four million images that comprise the Ebony/Jet photo archive of the Johnson Publishing Company—founded in 1942 in Chicago by the African American businesspeople John H. Johnson and his wife, Eunice Johnson. In Gates’s interdisciplinary practice, he makes work that explores the rich legacy of Blackness by constructing spaces like Rebuild Foundation—a nonprofit dedicated to art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation on the South Side of Chicago—and by fashioning found objects and printed materials into painting, sculpture, and sound. He proposed using the archive to create a new gesture beyond a simple museum experience: “I would do what John and Eunice did. I would be a publisher.”
The catalogue is a boxed set of black-and-white cards featuring photographs of Black women, all taken by the photographers Isaac Sutton and Moneta Sleet Jr. in the mid-twentieth century and drawn from the Ebony/Jet archives. It is an extraordinary portrait of Black femininity in all its multivalence.