Too Tired Week: Alayna Pernell: Our Mother’s Garden
Too Tired Project is a nonprofit arts organization advancing mental health advocacy through photography. They work to develop and expand the ways photography can positively impact mental health—online, in person, and in print. Current initiatives include rotating exhibitions, a traveling slideshow series, a photobook publishing imprint, and social engagement via their instagram. This week’s features are curated by our Executive Director, Kelly Burgess, and spotlights artists who are making work exploring issues related to mental health.
Alayna Pernell’s work focuses on examining what it means to be a Black person in America, and how the history of representation has impacted the wellbeing of Black individuals throughout time. Her project Our Mothers’ Gardens began when she was looking through her family’s photographic archive and was able to celebrate the way her family depicted itself. She compared her family’s images to those vernacular photographs of Black women held at the Art Institute of Chicago – photographs that have been removed from all family and identifying context. Pernell has recontextualized the work found in the institutional archive to draw attention to how historically Black identity has been erased, and how this erasure and exploitation has negatively impacted the mental wellbeing of Black Americans.
Alayna N. Pernell (b. 1996) is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and educator from Heflin, Alabama. In May 2019, she graduated from The University of Alabama where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art with a concentration in Photography and a minor in African American Studies. She received her MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2021. Pernell’s practice considers the gravity of the mental wellbeing of Black people concerning the physical and metaphorical spaces they inhabit. Her work has been exhibited in various cities across the United States, including FLXST Contemporary (Chicago, IL), Refraction Gallery (Milwaukee, WI), JKC Gallery (Trenton, NJ), RUSCHWOMAN Gallery (Chicago, IL), Colorado Photographic Arts Center (Denver, CO), Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA) and more.
Pernell was named the 2020-2021 recipient of the James Weinstein Memorial Award by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Photography and the 2021 Snider Prize award recipient by the Museum of Contemporary Photography. She was also recognized on the Silver Eye Center of Photography 2022 Silver List, Photolucida’s 2021 Critical Mass Top 50, 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention, Ground Floor Contemporary (Birmingham, AL), and more.
She is currently the Associate Lecture of Photography and Imaging at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Our Mother’s Garden
My interdisciplinary practice considers the gravity of the mental wellbeing of Black people in relation to the spaces we inhabit, whether physically or metaphorically. Using a compilation of photography, text, found materials, and sound, I examine the harsh realities and complexities of being a Black American. Throughout my research and making, I unearth how we as Black Americans are impacted by constant exposure to prejudice, discrimination, and violence.
Currently, I am working on my body of work entitled Our Mothers’ Gardens (2020-current). In this work, I am researching and uncovering repressed images of Black women held in photographic collections at the Art Institute of Chicago. The images I have found and researched thus far depict the exploitation and violence towards Black women, whether overt or obscured. With these images, I have excavated, re-photographed, re-captioned, and re-contextualized the original works to show them in a different light with new meaning. By engaging with these images with the intervention of my hands and my body, I am rescuing and protecting Black women’s bodies and their humanity. I also unearth their stories individually and collectively so that they may be seen and heard. I beg for more than the visibility of Black women in institutional collections and hopeful restitution. I also desire for the issue around institutions holding and silencing collections of visible and (in)visible violent visual depictions of Black women to be further highlighted and corrected. – Alayna Pernell
Kelly Burgess (she/her) is a project-based conceptual photographer, curator, publisher, and arts administrator that lives and works in rural Vermont. Emotional narrative is the thematic thread running through her work, with much of her own photography and writing coming directly from personal experiences.
Kelly is a regular editorial contributor to The New York Times. Her work has also been published in The Wall Street Journal, Kodak’s Kodachrome Magazine, GROW Magazine, PDNEdu, and Art New England Magazine – where she was featured as one of their 30 Photographers Under 30. Her sold-out book/project, Sing Me Back Home, has been exhibited internationally, more recently at the Arctic Arts Festival in Norway, MassArt Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
In addition to her personal work, she has over a decade of experience in arts administration. In 2020 Kelly joined the Too Tired Project (tootiredproject.com), a nonprofit arts organization advancing mental health advocacy through photography, as their Executive Director. With TTP, she launched Too Tired Press, where she works as the Publisher. Her mission for Too Tired Press is to focus on creating transparent, equitable, and affordable relationships between artists and the publishing industry. www.kelly-burgess.
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
Too Tired Week: Alayna Pernell: Our Mother’s GardenApril 13th, 2022
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Focus on Vernacular: Daisy PattonJune 11th, 2021