Alayna N. Pernell
May 24 – July 9, 2021
During this past summer I was feeling a bit detached from photographing myself. This was a result of social unrest and the pandemic. In June, I went back home to Alabama for a couple of months to be with family. I spent a lot of time between my Grandmother and my Mom’s home, both of whom I am very close with. We went through photo albums together and loose images hanging around in tubs. It took weeks to go through hundreds of photos from the late 19th century to present. By the time I finished, I winded up scanning over 800 images. I had become very attached to the language of the archive and what it could say about the people in the images. I found it beautiful to see how my family depicted themselves. I enjoyed the conversations with my Nanny and Mom about them all. Yet, this moment was the catalyst to me questioning the stakes when we do not have the power to speak for ourselves.
My practice is currently revolving around two questions. What can visual art tell us about the depiction of Black women throughout visual art history? How have those negative depictions of Black women led to their lack of mental and physical care? I have spent the last couple of months researching collections. All my images are from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art. I have re-photographed, re-captioned and re-contextualized the original works I have researched. This is my way of protecting the Black women’s bodies and their humanity.
Statement of Artistic Purpose
My practice considers the gravity of the mental wellbeing of Black people. Especially based off of their environmental and geographical locations. In my interdisciplinary practice, I examine the harsh realities and complexities of being a Black American. As a product of Alabama, it was evident that the color of my skin alone was more offensive than any words I could say. The very possession of my black body alone served to be quite traumatic. It shaped the person who I am today, for better or for worse. It wasn’t until I reached adolescence, that I realized that I was far from being alone. There is a wear and tear on the Black body as a result of stress due to constant exposure to racism, sexism and classism. This weathering effects generations, not individuals. Photography is often used as a tool to silence or mischaracterize marginalized people. This is why it is important to me to consider the realities of others with compassion and respect. In every body of work I create, I attempt to create a space for healthy dialogue to occur.
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 is currently an MFA Photography candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Pernell has had her work published in the 2020-2021 School of the Art Institute of Chicago MFA Catalogue, the 2020- 2021 School of the Art Institute Department Photography Department Catalogue and the 1st and 2nd editions of Todo, a graduate student zine. Her work has also been exhibited in various cities across the United States.
Alayna N. Pernell is a recent finalist for the John Chervinsky Scholarship 2020.