The Blacker THe BErry
Bobby Rogers | November 2017
The Blacker the Berry is inspired in part by the title of the 1929 novel by American author Wallace Thurman, associated with the Harlem Renaissance. It was considered groundbreaking for its exploration of colorism and racial discrimination within the black community, where lighter skin was often favored, especially for women. This pioneering novel found a way beyond the bondage of Blackness in American life to a new meaning in truth and beauty. Notably, The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York spanning the 1920s. This movement included new African-American cultural expressions and was considered to be a rebirth of African-American arts. 80 years later, long past the context of a Harlem Renaissance, Kendrick Lamar, the Compton rapper released a 2015 track titled “The Blacker the Berry” laced with lyrics that respond powerfully and emotionally to the ongoing race and violence issues in America. Lamar is known for rapping about loving yourself in a culture that degrades you, though this particular track is exceptionally enraged. “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” was also used in Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Your Head Up” in 1993. Shakur, a popular, socially conscious rapper of the 1980s and 1990s, created music not only for others to understand the social injustices facing Black Americans but provided Blacks living in conditions of oppression with a voice in society. Lamar credits Shakur as an inspiration for his current role as a storyteller through music.
Hip-hop has a history as a mode of social resistance, the rhetorical elements of the genre make it an effective method of protest. Rogers’ use of “the Blacker the Berry” is then an exploration of identity, race, authentic self-expression and self-love as an artist. He explores potential for the medium of photography as contemporary activism and protest, broadcast within a visually-driven, internet-dependent society. Bobby Rogers’ photographs are an act of resistance and a response to oppression, a response that shows blackness as beautiful, mystical, complex and human.
Set in the context of current culture and social tensions, The Blacker the Berry considers Blackness both historically and presently, through a series of ten large-scale conceptual portraits. His subjects are captured through intentional portraiture that evokes a cultural renaissance, asking the viewer to consider an artistic movement that celebrates Blackness in response to the racially-charged consciousness of contemporary America.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Bobby Rogers was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN. His work is centered in his multiple identities as black, millennial, Muslim. While pursuing a degree in Illustration at MCAD, Rogers found the space and freedom to begin a journey of self-exploration. Early on through illustration, he created work about mental illness and addiction and later explored the DIY aesthetics of street culture and its influence on high fashion. Today, he is investigating the revolutionary ideologies of Black culture through contemporary portrait photography.
Rogers has a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and currently works as an illustrator, designer and photographer. Past and present clients include Bevel, Racked Magazine, Mia, MCAD, American Swedish Institute, Pollen, NEMAA, BrandLab, UofM. His photography has been seen at Public Functionary, Light Grey Art Lab, MN Museum of American Art and in the MN Historical Society’s permanent collection. His photography work has been featured by Buzzfeed, City Pages, The Huffington Post, Mic, Vice Mag and more. In 2016, Minnesota Monthly named Rogers one of Minnesota’s Top Up and Coming Artists to Watch.
Photo Credit: Rik Sferra