Nia Hampton, Drapetomania, and New Artists and Ideas at Waller Gallery by Angela N. Carroll
Waller Gallery, a new Black-owned art space in Charles Village offers refreshing programming and curation that showcases local and international contemporary artworks. The galleries premiere exhibition, Drapetomania, presents photographs and film by Baltimore-based artist Nia Hampton.
“Art communities often ignore indigenous people, brown people,” Joy Davis, founder and curator notes,“But there are pockets of “blackness” everywhere. That’s why Nia’s show is important. It’s about starting conversations with people.”
Drapetomania revises and pokes at the pseudo-psychological disorder invented by physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851, nearly a decade before the Emancipation Proclamation. Cartwright believed that the desire of enslaved Africans to escape enslavement had to be caused by a psychological disturbance. He coined the term to describe their strong urge to run away. Cartwright, and many others, fervently upheld the institution of slavery and did not consider anyone who was not white to be human. Africans were considered to be only 3/5ths of a person, more closely related to animals than white men. This sentiment founds the over four hundred-year-old genocidal system of kidnapping, buying, and selling of Africans who were assumed incompetent in all regards except as laborers. Drapetomania, a deeply troubling and false clinical assessment, is a profound articulation of the illogical and devastating pathological violence of white supremacy.
In recent years, social media has adopted a contemporary definition for drapetomania that, unsurprisingly, omits the terms sinister origins. #Drapetomania has become a popular tag on travel photos to describe ones unquenchable wanderlust or desire to travel.
Artist Nia Hampton always wanted to travel beyond Baltimore. Over the years she has traversed across South America and found herself especially drawn to cities with resonant African presences like Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador. The exhibition Drapetomania documents the persistence of African presence in South American culture that Hampton discovered along her travels.
The moments Hampton captures through photography and short films are intimate and familiar: children eating candy or sitting on their parent’s shoulders, teenage girls posing with their hands on their hip, beautiful portraits of women or young men sitting in barbershops with elaborate designs shaved into the back and side of their heads. Other images highlight acts of resistance like protests for religious or sexual freedom. The beauty of Hampton’s work is that it consistently and irreverently displays global representations of Black joy and freedom. The resultant documentation is neither voyeuristic nor tied to the escapist sentimentality of new iterations of drapetomania, rather the work effectively provides a revisionist and expansive perspective that counters histories of erasure of African aesthetics in South America.
Waller Gallery hopes to provide a sustainable platform for other underrepresented artists to exhibit their works. This weekend (Saturday May 5th – Sunday May 6th) the gallery will host the Black Femme Supremacy Film Festival, which will feature 25 short and long form video works created by black women of all nationalities and sexual orientations, as well as a panel and performance.
The gallery is also working on a collaborative exhibition with Gallery CA in Station North titled Strength in Practice. The effort will explore issues of mental health, body image, gender, violence, peace and perception. Curator Joy Davis describes the upcoming exhibit as “not attempting to define a word, but unpack the world’s anxieties about a concept that could be equated with words like love and justice.” A call for artists to contribute to the exhibition is open until May 15, 2018.