On Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, the African American Cultural Center (AACC) and the Women’s Center hosted a grand opening reception for their joint gallery. The gallery is entitled “HERMonies: Black Sounds, Black Voices, Black Movement.”

The exhibition opened with the Uninhibited Praise Gospel Choir (UPGC) who sang “Stand Up,” as adapted from the 2019 movie Harriet.

Bri Elum, Assistant Director of the Women’s Center, and Isaiah Lucas, Program Coordinator of the AACC, introduced the theme of the exhibition through a speech about the importance of Black women throughout time. Elum stated that Black women have always been at the forefront of the Black Power movements, especially through songs and artistry. 

The AACC and the Women’s Center curated a gallery of ten musical women whose works were instrumental in moving Black people forward through times of struggle and injustice. Some of the women who are highlighted are Noname, Nina Simone, Queen Latifah and Miriam Makeba. 

The audience was given 15 minutes to experience the exhibit which included biographies, art pieces, portraits and songs, which were linked through Spotify. This time was used for meaningful reflection, education and conversation.

After coming back to the larger group, Lynette Barber came to the stage as Mahalia Jackson and sang three selections, closing with “Soon I Will Be Done.” Along with the songs, Barber also told us about Jackson’s involvement with the Civil Rights movement and her impact on Black history. She said that Jackson was a businessperson who contributed financially to the Civil Rights movement and also used her voice to lift the spirits of the protestors.

Once Barber finished her performance, Elum and Lucas hosted a question and answer session about how they came up with the idea for the gallery. They talked about how their inspiration came from the concept that music should be listened to critically and should be reflected upon as part of its time period. Lucas told us his interpretation of “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone and how he felt that it was highlighting the frustrations that we all feel when going through racism and discrimination in the deep South.

Elum said that while it was important to talk about her experience as a Black woman professional, she also wanted to put students who frequent the Women’s Center and the AACC in the conversation. She said that the students are the ones who will be visiting the gallery, so their opinions on the cultural importance of those Black singers should be at the forefront. This is how they chose the ten women that are highlighted in the gallery. 

For the last part of the Q&A, Elum played a portion of “Song 33” by Noname and led a small discussion on its cultural significance. The song excerpt discussed the mistreatment of Black women activists, the disappearance of Black women, the killings of transgender women and the oppressive nature of the Black patriarchy.

After the question and answer session, the event closed with another selection by UPGC. which was “Oh Freedom.” The audience was invited to stay for a few minutes if there were any artists they did not get to interact with during the program, but they were also heavily encouraged to return to the gallery to get a fully immersive experience.

HERMonies: Black Sounds, Black Voices, Black Movement will be available for viewing and interaction through Mar. 15, 2022, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the AACC Gallery on the second floor of Witherspoon. It is highly encouraged that you bring a smartphone and a pair of headphones to engage with and enjoy the music of the exhibit.