By Owen Fidler; Photography by Ray Perry
On September 11, 13, 16, and 17, the Vollum Lounge was opened to the public in order to display the fellowship project of Andee Gude ‘26: “Black Space,” an artistic exploration on providing space for Black culture centered around Gude’s journey to the Central Harlem neighborhood in New York. The exhibit featured photography, risograph printing, and collage, all art forms that explored both Gude’s personal journey with their own identity and their observations of Central Harlem life and Black space.
The exhibit was also interactive, prompting observers to answer Gude’s questions — including “Why do you think art is liberating?” and “How can we make sacred, Black space?” — on the wall. When asked about their decision to make the exhibition interactive, Gude explained they, “wanted everybody to be put in a position where they had to feel just as vulnerable as I did.”
The exhibition not only served as a reflection of race and identity throughout Central Harlem, but also a space in which Gude reflected on their own journey through understanding what it means to be Black and socioeconomically disadvantaged. By forcing the audience to consider and share the complex relationships they have with their own identities, Gude is creating a space that they describe as, “like a shield…something that mends us all together.”
On the first wall, Gude shared their experiences in Central Harlem through photography, having documented the neighborhoods, music scenes, and museums they explored throughout their time there. While the photographs captured stunning scenes on the streets of Central Harlem, Gude described the visual elements of the photography as mostly unintentional. “I was using photography as a mode of photojournalism, to capture things and be able to bring them home, and allow people to see as accurately and vividly what I was seeing.” The photos, while having strong visual qualities, were also very raw, in order to bring their unfiltered Central Harlem experience back to Reed. Anonymous Reed students who wrote on the walls of the exhibit added to this idea by explaining that photography, “allow[s] us to soak in all the details of scenes that we typically may walk past without truly taking in our surroundings,” and that it “allows us to notice the mundane or interpret shadows or even question why we view a certain thing a certain way.” After coming to Harlem, Gude was overwhelmingly refreshed by how strong of a cultural connection they experienced.
“Being in Harlem was beautiful…I would get in random conversations with elders and they would be like, ‘You’re so beautiful’…I really appreciated it because of that, and being able to connect with my culture in that way, being able to eat food that [taste] how my grandma made it, and just being in spaces where I didn’t feel excluded …. It was a very powerful experience,” they said.
One of their walls of photographs documented experiences Gude had before coming to Harlem, yet still deemed significant for their understanding of their identity. For example, Gude attended Freadom Festival during Juneteenth weekend, which celebrates Black authors and raises awareness about book bans and identity suppression against BIPOC and Queer communities. Gude described the festival as “the first time I actively engaged and celebrated Juneteenth … the first time I felt an urgency in my life to connect with my community.”
Growing up in a predominantly Black and brown community before coming to Reed, and then moving to a Predominantly White Institution like Reed, Gude described the way the urgency to connect with their community on a deeper level grew during their first year and was influenced by their experiences that Juneteenth weekend, including an art event hosted by Don’t Shoot PDX with PNCA.
In the art they made that weekend, Gude focused on the idea of liberation. As the description of their risograph printing art explains: “The ability to freely express ourselves is liberating when considering the constraints we’ve been confined to. I felt liberated during this time – although I don’t consider myself much of an artist, I was given the same space as the beautifully talented folks around me … Connecting with my community like this was a beautiful time I’ll never forget.” Anonymous Reed students added onto the idea of liberation described by Gude, stating that art, “fundamentally communicates things that speech cannot, and allows for expression in times of oppression,” “is wide and broad and unlimited,” “is an ultimate expression of the unfiltered self,” “creates disruption,” and “captur[es] an individual experience that still, somehow is understood by others.”
Gude’s display of risograph printing is especially significant, as Gude described, it can be, “a way of printing high volumes more quickly and cheaply than photocopying,” and, “is especially sacred to marginalized communities, as it gives way to reproducing content quickly and affordably.” Gude expanded on this by explaining how they felt empowered personally in their creation of risograph printing, that their art was, “valued just as much as people who could make these really intricate paintings and who were maybe literally going to art school and being trained to make art.” One might find Gude using Reed’s own recently purchased risograph in the visual resource center, something they’ve been able to do frequently.
Another more personal element Gude portrayed in their photography is their own hair, which they photographed washing in the shower. “The way that I connect with my hair is rooted in a lot of cultural things. It can be rooted in a lot of ways that I feel alienated or oppressed as a black person in this world. But it also is like something beautiful that I can share … it’s like this feeling that we all have together,” Gude explained. Citing others who have expressed ways in which hair connects to Black culture, expression, rebirth, and reclamation, Gude talked about Thelma Golden, curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, who curated the exhibit “Freestyle,” which addresses ways in which Black art which is implemented into large museums has to be “obviously black” in order to highlight a museum’s attempt at diversity and attempts to divert away from that.
The “Post-Black” movement Golden started is an attempt to give artists adamant to not be labeled “Black” artists, as Golden and contemporary artists define, “a space to redefine complex notions of blackness.” Gude also mentioned Theaster Gates, a Chicago artist who re-focused South Side Chicago neighborhoods to give Chicago’s Black community a cultural space, essentially, in Gude’s opinion, “un-gentrif[ying]” the area.
The final art form portrayed in Gude’s exhibition was collage art, which Gude described as a way to give waste “a second life” and a way for them to “tell you about my project through material anecdotes I’d otherwise thrown away, or stowed within a bookshelf or box in my closet.” Collecting both pieces of waste relating to their experiences in Harlem’s art community and their everyday life in Harlem, Gude used the piece to help them “rediscover myself through what I’d almost left behind.” An anonymous Reed student commenter on the exhibit wrote “Waste marks experience. We live in a society full of disposability. We throw things and experiences away for the next thing. Appreciating that waste saves it from being tossed out. And, it shows the whole experience. Mundanity is so powerful.”
“The only way that [Black people will] be liberated or … get equality is if we take up space and if there’s space made for us,” Gude explained, which embodies an idea they encourage others to contemplate and reflect on in light of their own identities. Gude also wanted you, their audience, to “think about your position in this and how you support and uplift black artists” and to “get connected in your community…get connected to black-centered organizations in Portland,” listing Don’t Shoot PDX, Black United Fund of Oregon, Brown Hope, and Black Lives Matter as some they’ve had success connecting to since coming to Reed.