Sistrunk Exhibition Explores Gathering Places in Black Communities

Featuring works by Black artists and designers, the new exhibition The Porch is the Tree is the Watering Hole is a dynamic exploration of space and community within the African Diaspora. Through the lenses of art, architecture, photography, and poetry, the exhibition examines concepts of community and life in Sistrunk, a historically Black neighborhood in Broward County, FL. The exhibition is on view at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) through May 2021. 

As Black communities become increasingly marginalized, it is important to be reminded of traditions that have brought people together for centuries. Whether it be a backyard cookout, a Sunday morning church service, or a gathering under a tree to listen to the latest stories, connection has always been at the center of the Black community.

Artists and designers: Germane Barnes, Darius V. Daughtry, David I. Muir, Adler Guerrier, Olalekan Jeyifous, Adrienne Chadwick, Marlene Brunot, and George Gadson, were invited by the exhibition’s curator, Dominique Denis, to explore the Sistrunk neighborhood to better understand the relationship its residents have with the built environment. Through art and design conceived or reimagined for this show, they present a tapestry of work reflecting past and present realities.

“Public spaces are inhabited and experienced differently within the Black community, so it was important for this exhibition to showcase the rich history and culture of the people of Sistrunk,” said Denis, who curated the exhibition and is a project manager for Broward County’s Public Art & Design program.

A main goal of the exhibition is to bring about a better understanding of this historical Black community and to inform the type of public art projects best suited for the area. The exhibition is conceptually centered around two staples of most Black neighborhoods: the gathering place and the back alley.

“While public art is presented for the public experience, it also requires a certain level of intimacy with the community,” said Broward Cultural Division Director, Phil Dunlap. “This project allowed us to go deeper into Sistrunk and pave a path for communicating these stories.”

By exploring important landmarks throughout the Sistrunk neighborhood, local narratives were rediscovered and served as inspiration for the exhibition design; in particular, the American shotgun home and the back alley.

Works in the exhibition are displayed in “rooms” found within a single-family home. Photographs of the neighborhood hang on the walls and fabrics sway on the “front porch” as if hung from a laundry line. Poetry written on the floors and walls reinforces thoughts of shared experiences and collectivity. Chairs in the exhibition’s central gathering space reference chairs typically found on the porches of many homes in Sistrunk. They evoke the gathering places that both formal and informal porches provide to this Black community. The alley, a threshold of public and private space, is the path through which visitors travel to view works on display and learn of the community and its aspirations.

The Porch is the Tree is the Watering Hole is an introspection and investigation meant to highlight the Black experience in Black neighborhoods. It is a collaborative effort to bring forth a collective energy that celebrates Sistrunk’s important history.

The exhibition is open to the public by advance reservation on Thursday and Saturdays from 11am – 2pm. Admission is free. For the safety of all visitors, must wear face coverings. Reserve your admission here

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