Black Pearls World Premiere

The exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue, featuring an essay about the artist by Dr. Imani M. Cheers (Associate Professor of Digital Storytelling at The George Washington University). The catalogue also includes a historical essay by Dr. Candace Cunningham (Assistant Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University).

This is the first time a museum has presented a solo exhibition of Reginald Cunningham’s work. He personally interviewed each of his subjects thoroughly before their portrait sittings. Cunningham has also captured the physical and ephemeral elements that make up the community, preserving the stories of generations.

Mr. John Martin by Reginald Cunningham (2022) from the museum exhibition Black Pearls

“Because there is perpetually the threat of development that would throw asunder this neighborhood, we want to tell this story through the current residents whose ancestors were the original settlers,” adds Irvin Lippman.

“To accomplish this visual storytelling, the Museum selected Reginald Cunningham, whose photography celebrates Black identity and is currently earning national and international acclaim. It is a rare artist whose social activism matches their artistry.”

“These works by Reginald Cunningham have now entered the Museum’s collection. This is most definitely a project born in the community, that serves to create a record for future generations,” adds Lippman.

Ms. Anne Blutcher by Reginald Cunningham (2022) from the museum exhibition Black Pearls

Founded in 1915, Pearl City predated the incorporation of the surrounding City of Boca Raton by a decade. “This is one of South Florida’s oldest neighborhoods, and the only historically Black community in Boca Raton,” says Dr. Candace Cunningham.

“More than a century ago, a land auction was held and African Americans purchased thirty lots that day to create Pearl City. Yet, as was often the case in the segregated South, their opportunities paled in comparison to those presented to White Americans, who also purchased land at two other Boca Raton land auctions that day and they got larger lots for less money,” she adds.

Founded in 1915, Pearl City predated the incorporation of the surrounding City of Boca Raton by a decade. “This is one of South Florida’s oldest neighborhoods, and the only historically Black community in Boca Raton,” says Dr. Candace Cunningham.

“More than a century ago, a land auction was held and African Americans purchased thirty lots that day to create Pearl City. Yet, as was often the case in the segregated South, their opportunities paled in comparison to those presented to White Americans, who also purchased land at two other Boca Raton land auctions that day and they got larger lots for less money,” she adds.

Pictured above: an archival historic advertisement from the time of the founding of Pearl City.

Pearl City Historical District by Reginald Cunningham (2022).

Decades later, the descendants of those Pearl City pioneers found it necessary to protect the community their ancestors built. As the city grew, Pearl City’s location became more appealing to encroaching real estate developers who wanted to rezone the area for commercial use.

Thanks to the work of the Developing Interracial Social Change organization, and to many other community activists, this Museum project is part of a larger effort to advocate for the designation of Pearl City as a State of Florida Historic District.

Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, by Reginald Cunningham (2022) from the exhibition Black Pearls

This exhibition was made possible with the generous support of Barb Schmidt and Michelle Maros, and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

Investigating further the different ways that community can be defined, the images in this exhibition highlight people and landmarks. This exhibition features 24 photographs by Reginald Cunningham, and personal mementos passed down through families for more than 100 years.

With the aid of Dr. Candace Cunningham of Florida Atlantic University, this exhibition also features the oral histories of both current-day Pearl City residents and the children of the original settlers that have moved to other cities.

The artist Reginald Cunningham

Visitors to the Museum may hear the stories in the subjects’ own words via audio and transcribed video of the interviews. Interest in Pearl City has blossomed, and residents celebrate their community’s honored past.

In recognizing their own history they see a connection to the broader struggle for equal rights. To many of these residents, holding on to their land is almost sacred. 

When it comes to this community’s connection to its history, it is clear that some things simply are not for sale (excerpts from the essay written by Dr. Candace Cunningham in the Museum’s exhibition catalogue). Read more details about the history of Pearl City at this page by the Boca Raton Historical Society.

Pastor Ronald Brown by Reginald Cunningham (2022) from the museum exhibition Black Pearls

About the Artist

Reginald Cunningham (BePureBlack.com) is a Washington DC-based photographer known for his concert, fashion, and activist photography. He fully embraced the art of photography in 2017, and his works have been featured in The Washington Post, Essence, Ebony, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Take Part, and The Final Call.

His passion for photography was instilled by his mother, herself a photographer for more than 30 years. During his childhood, he was often in her studio absorbing her appreciation for portraiture. He began to develop his art during the Ferguson unrest.

 “He doesn’t turn activism ‘on’ or ‘off’ with a swipe to the left or right. Instead, Reggie leads with his lens,” says Dr. Imani M. Cheers.

“Through his photography, Reggie captures the complexities of communities. He sees the nuances in neighbors. He puts himself directly on the front lines to bear witness, sacrifice his safety, and tell the truth.” adds Dr. Cheers.

His style is edgy and intimate, often forgoing smoothing and airbrushing in favor of sharper and more realistic images. He attended Lindenwood University, received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and dual Master’s degrees in Digital & Multimedia Design and Promotional Communications.

Pictured above – samples of photos by Reginald Cunningham, from his website www.BePureBlack.com

Founded by artistsBoca Raton Museum of Art was established in 1950 as the Art Guild of Boca Raton. The organization has grown, now in its eighth decade, to encompass a Museum, Art School, and Sculpture Garden. As one of South Florida’s leading cultural landmarks, the Museum has provided cultural and artistic service to the community, and to many visitors from around the world, since it was founded by artists in 1950.


 

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