The Plain Dealer’s DEAR CLEVELAND Project with Shooting Without Bullets
‘More than mementos’ photos are expressions of overlooked and underexposed black and brown young women: Amanda King
CLEVELAND, Ohio --This summer, six young women — Adora, Air, Genesis, Isadora, Jasmine and Lai Lai—reached into deep places and ventured out into the streets with analog cameras to photograph Cleveland.
Reflection on my experience with the Dear Cleveland project brings to mind lines from Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury.”
In it, Lorde writes, “For each of us as women, there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises…within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling.”
Dear Cleveland is an ode to the land in which they live, and their ability to find beauty otherwise unacknowledged. Cleveland is where they’ve developed their artistic talents, but also where they experience racial hostility and disparity.
These photographs are more than mementos of the utopian and dystopian places in Cleveland they collectively traversed, they are expressions of the deep feelings and emotions that come from growing up overlooked and underexposed. Their power lies in the intensity with which they shoot.
As girls of color, they reside in a world where they don’t feel listened to or understood. By tapping into the reserve of creativity mentioned in Lorde’s essay, they show us who they are, where they live and what they cherish without seeking permission or approval.
Much like the young photographers of Dear Cleveland, Shooting Without Bullets is an organization that finds its inspiration on the streets of Cleveland, where we spend the majority of our time. We seek talent in the places that are overlooked, and with limited resources and no permanent studio space, we find and create beauty in otherwise bleak conditions.
Since its inception, Shooting Without Bullets has been a place of exploration for youth voices that are not often heard or valued. Through an art as activism model, black and brown teens use photography, hip-hop performance, and mixed media to process and provide commentary on the complex social issues affecting their lives.
Our youth artists participated in the FRONT Triennial, performed on the Rock Hall stage, and exhibited at both the Morgan Conservatory and the East Cleveland Public Library. They are featured in a self-produced documentary short, “UNDEREXPOSED”, and they created “WAKE UP.,” a song, music video, and campaign that sought to encourage black and brown youth to become civically engaged in their communities, beginning by voting in the midterm elections.
We recognize the importance of highlighting overlooked talent and know that through art, we can shift culture. Shooting Without Bullets will soon expand our art as activism model into a production company. We will continue to revolutionize art, conversation, and spaces as well as cultivate the next generations of artist activists.