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I'm young, and I'm old

I'm rich, and I'm poor

I feel like I've been on this earth many times before

Once, I was a white Gazelle

On horseback riding free

Searching in the darkness for a piece of me


…I can feel it

I can feel it, ooh

In my heart I feel it

  • Teena Marie, Deja Vu, 1979


For some time now, Teena Marie’s Deja Vu has resonated with me. Her ability to express this feeling of having been here before is something that I often experience. Throughout the seven-minute and thirty-six-second sonic journey, Teena allows the listener to transport with her through the many lives she lived, stopping periodically to remind us that this feeling she’s expressing is not just mere emotion, but fact. Her use of vivid and imaginative language, alongside Marie’s powerful vocal performance, helps to affirm this feeling that she conveys throughout, “I’ve been here before.” 


Throughout the song, Teena makes abundantly clear that her constant returns to Earth weren’t in vain, but instead part of a much larger journey of self-discovery, one that she feels she is nearing the end of. The act of returning, be it to physical or emotional spaces, is one that I am interested in within contemporary art practices, especially the practices of contemporary Black artists who engage with the photographic image. Shawn Michelle Smith, in her book Photographic Returns, speaks about the photographs' ability to transport those who engage with it in both backward and forward motions through time and space. 


The recursive nature of the photograph allows space for the artist to look back with a new eye and generate new futures from the images/ideas of the past. This idea of artists occupying themselves with objects/ideas of the past is not new, but the methods employed by contemporary Black artists and the implications of said Black art within an ever-changing political context are. 


Opening on March 29, 2024, at Sibyl Gallery in New Orleans, LA, I’ve been here before… is a group exhibition that explores the recursive nature of the photograph through the lens of emerging Black artists in the US. The exhibition explores the relationship between the Black community and the photograph and how, through interactions with the medium, Black people have been able to form and recognize symbols/visual language that are vital to the continued formation of an ever-changing Black art canon.

By looking back to the photograph, these artists recognize the inherent ability of the image to conjure up feelings of being while also addressing the loss photographs often remind us of. Although situated around the photograph, the artist in the show engages with many mediums that include but aren't limited to photography, video, installation, and sculpture. Having artists from across mediums allows the exhibition to fully render the photograph's ability to affect the artists' practice.

Participating Artists:

John Alleyne

Lola Ayisha Ogbara          
Darryl D’Angelo Terrell            
Feli Maynard          
Mark Anthony Brown       
Justin A Carney               
Kristina K Robinson      
Ambrose Rhapsody Murray
Jen Everett
Sean G Clark 



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