NORMAL — The everyday lives of African-Americans, away from the extremes of victims and celebrities, are the focus of a exhibit now at University Galleries in uptown Normal.
"When it comes to black people, America is fascinated with extreme poles: either showing victims of violence, pain and poverty, or famous athletes and entertainers, and icons of popular culture," said Chicago artist Cecil McDonald Jr., an adjunct professor at Columbia College Chicago. "This false dichotomy denies black people the individuality and full spectrum of humanity that is so readily offered to the white population in this country."
In photographs he took over seven years, McDonald aims to show the humanity of “extraordinarily, ordinary people," including educators, artists, administrators, business owners, teachers and students. Those portraits are now part of McDonald's exhibit, “In the Company of Black,” at University Galleries of Illinois State University through Oct. 14.
The work has also been published in a 144-page book of the same title by Candor Arts, a Chicago-based independent art book publisher. ISU's Milner Library recently acquired a copy of the handmade first edition for its Special Collections.
The uptown exhibit also premieres McDonald’s 2018 video, "No One Ever Really Dies." It features a projected image of McDonald's late father-in-law with narration from six voices reading the eulogy that civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois wrote for himself six years before he died.
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University Galleries was excited to show McDonald's work for several reasons, said Kendra Paitz, its director and chief curator.
"McDonald's abilities as a photographer, storyteller and educator — as well as his overall ethic regarding the creation and intention of the work — were compelling reasons to present "In the Company of Black," Paitz said, adding that the exhibit is the largest presentation of McDonald's work to date.
McDonald and Matt Austin, the director and co-founder of Candor Arts, will also have a panel discussion about their work at noon Oct. 4 at the gallery.
University Galleries is located in Normal's Uptown Station. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; and 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.