Throughout history, there has been a unique curiosity to capture and study the Black body, especially those of Black women. Our bodies have continued to be seen as objects to capitalize off of and often times hardly anything beyond that. With these ideas in mind, my practice is currently revolving around two questions. What can visual art tell us about the depiction of Black women throughout history? How have those negative depictions of Black women resulted in our lack of mental and physical care?
I have spent months researching and uncovering suppressed 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. In my practice, I have excavated, re-photographed, re-captioned, and re-contextualized the original works. By engaging with these images with the intervention of my hands and my body, I attempt to rescue and protect Black women’s bodies and their humanity, and also unearth their stories so that they can be seen and heard. With my ongoing body of work entitled Our Mothers’ Gardens, I beg for more than the visibility of Black women in institutional collections and hopeful reparations. 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.
Alayna N. Pernell (b. 1996) was born and raised in rural Alabama, USA. 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 in relation to the physical and metaphorical spaces they inhabit. Pernell has had her work published in the 2020-2021 School of the Art Institute of Chicago MFA Catalogue; 2020-2021 School of the Art Institute Department Photography Department Catalogue; and the 1stand 2nd editions of Todo, a graduate student zine. Her work has also been exhibited in various cities across the United States. Pernell was also recently named the 2020-2021 recipient of the James Weinstein Memorial Award.
Alayna N. Pernell is a recent finalist for the John Chervinsky Scholarship 2020.