When the Instagram account @blackcollagists first launched in 2020, it served as a way for Baltimore-based curator and art critic Teri Henderson to organize her thoughts. Henderson had been tasked with curating an archive of collages made by Black artists held by the Kanyer Art Collection, close to 400 pieces in the medium amassed by Doug and Laurie Kanyer beginning in 1978. She used the account, which she now runs independently, to upload artworks she was interested in and artists she wanted to learn more about. Soon, the follower count started to grow, and so did the archive.
To date, the account has over 6,000 followers and has featured new and emerging Black collage artists from around the world. To memorialize its success, Henderson recently published Black Collagists: The Book (Kanyer Publishing), which highlights 54 emerging and established Black collage artists working in collage in a range of styles. Among the artists included are Peter Williams, Sadie Barnette, Yannick Lowery, Jesse L. Freeman, John C. Fields, and more. Henderson also commissioned additional essays on the medium by Justin Smith, Laurie Kanyer, Yesenia Hunter, and Danielle Canter.
The book is a proclamation that the tradition of Black collage is alive and well. In the works featured colors take flight, jagged edges add texture and depth, and rips and tears offer refuge. In the introduction of the book, Henderson writes, “The voices of Black collagists have been marginalized for too long. I’m here to amplify the truth and turn the volume up.”
ARTnews recently sat down with Henderson to learn more about the book, the tradition of collage, and her hopes for expanding the archive. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
ARTnews: How did you find yourself curating and putting this book together?
Teri Henderson: In 2020, I was hired by the Doug and Laurie Kanyer, collectors based in Washington, D.C., to help them make selections about Black collage art. They gave me a budget and I knew some people here in Baltimore that made collages and so I started the @blackcollagist Instagram page as a way for me to archive my own research. It was a mood board. I would do a weekly post featuring an emerging artist and then on Friday or Saturday, [I would post] a more established artist like Mickalene Thomas or a Derrick Adams and then more historical figures like Romare Bearden. It took on a life of its own.
But not everybody is on Instagram. There are people around the world who aren’t on social media, who don’t have smartphones, who aren’t plugged into the internet. And so I thought to myself: How do I get the mission of the project, and also the work, out to people? Being able to physically touch something like a book is important. [Artist] Jesse Freeman sent me a photo yesterday of his grandmother with the book and I started crying because this is why I wanted to do this.
In the preface to the book, you talk about needing to ask the right questions to curate a collection like this. I’m wondering what those questions were?
Who is alive and Black, and making collage artwork right now? Who should have their work collected? And not that these are the only people that should have their work collected, but who do I want to give veneration to with this edition? Who deserves to have some shine and to have their work highlighted?
If somebody was in the library—and I just keep thinking about being in the Black book section of the library—and they asked who in the Black art scene is making collage right now? I would hope they would pull out this [book] and see it’s these people.
What are some of your favorite pieces in the book?
Kara Walker’s work is in the book, and I can’t even wrap my brain around that. She’s not one of the featured artists but she generously allowed her work to be in the book at the beginning. But also Sadie Barnette, who’s based out of Oakland, is somebody that I’ve been a fan of since I was in college, so for at least 10 years. Her work and her images are gorgeous with really sharp colors. There’s John C. Fields, a former attorney based out of New York who didn’t start collaging until the pandemic. He has these really beautiful painterly-like collages that are analog. They’re on wine labels which are super quirky.
Delano Dunn’s piece It Doesn’t Really Matter really stood out to me and serves as a stunning introduction to what you explore in the book. What was the process for selecting each image, and what were you trying to say?
It’s a feeling that I’m trying to translate to whoever reads it, a feeling you picked up on with the Delano Dunn piece. I can’t tell you what it is. I knew who was coming next in [the book] because I knew the book was organized alphabetically and so I wanted to make decisions that would make people—as they were flipping through the book—pause and be like, “Oh, okay, let me check out this artist.” I know that everybody isn’t going to read the book cover to cover or all at once, that’s not even my intention. I just want you to pick it up and spend time with it and then put it back. Don’t be on your phone. Don’t get on Instagram. But return to it and find something you didn’t see before.
In curator Justin Smith’s prologue to the book, he writes, “Black collage is a visual frequency that breaks the line of sight and ushers new frames of reference.” I had to sit with that for a minute. I’m wondering how you would describe that term “visual frequency.”
Something that’s interesting about Justin’s prologue is that it was originally supposed to be an essay and I read it to myself and the rest of the book team. I needed to read it out loud because he literally understood exactly what I was feeling about the page, about the book and about the mission without us having talked. I’ve never met Justin [in person]—we’ve met on Zoom, but regardless he got it. It’s the same thing that you and I are talking about in regard to a feeling, he tapped into the impetus behind my work and behind the work of the artists in the book.
If you had to describe what the frequency looks like, feels like, smells like when you look at these pieces, how would you?
It feels like it’s moving, but literally and figuratively. It feels spiritual. If I had to give it a color, it would be navy. There’s a word for this that I can’t remember, but it feels like it’s tapping into the sacred, but not in a let’s-go-to-church kind of way. It’s just in a whatever-is-uniting-all-of-us kind of way, a whatever-is-driving-all-of-us kind of way. It also feels exciting and inspiring. I would not have done this book if I wasn’t inspired by every single person and honored by them saying yes.
The thing that Justin always talks about, and what I’ve written about, is how collage is like jazz. And his visual frequency, it’s remixing. It’s chopping it up. It’s surreal. That’s it, that’s the word. That’s how I want to say it. It’s a new surrealism, a spiritual surrealism, an Afro-surrealism. I know that people are deeply moved by painters and people love photography, but collage has become my practice and I’m very grateful for it.