Don’t Shoot Is Shifting the Lens to Black Artists

An art exhibit at the Museum of African Diaspora wants to affirm Black people and remind allies to take action.

Melonie Green is tired of just being heard. 

“I’m over that. I think we’ve done that for far too long,” she says.

Green, along with her twin sister Melorra Green, are the executive directors of the African American Art & Culture Complex, and curators of Don’t Shoot: An Opus of the Opulence of Blackness at the Museum of African Diaspora, an art exhibit featuring photography, video, sculpture, and interactive pieces on view through March 1. The title refers to a double meaning: “shooting” with weaponry or photography.  “Don’t shoot” reminds us that in art, you don’t “shoot” people — you ask for permission when taking their picture, and when sharing their story.

Don’t Shoot is a way for Black artists to “shift the lens — pun intended — for us to talk about our beauty and legacy, and how we want to be seen,” Melonie Green tells SF Weekly

It’s also a call to action for white people and allies. 

“Save all the ‘I just really wish for the world’ and ‘I just want things to change, what can we do?’ Save the confusion,” Melonie Green says. “Save the lip service of heartfelt stalling.”

That’s part of the thought process behind Don’t Shoot’s interactive photo booth. Painted by Andre Jones of the Bay Area Mural Program and installed by Melorra Green, Melonie Green, and Aima Paule, the photo booth is a stretch of wall featuring a blooming bouquet and a golden crown declaring “I AM.” A sign next to the photo booth invites Black people to pose and take pictures with affirmations that read words like “guided and protected” or “beautiful” in gold script.

For white people and allies, the instructions ask that you pick out “an action that you will take on as an ally.” The signs are different, reading: “I will give up my culturally appropriate seat to Black people, when in spaces for Black people”; “I will not touch Black people’s art, hair, children, etc. without permission”; “I will be a stand for parity and equity and educate my people about making space for Black people.”

“If we were to get down to business some people would make sure folks were included at the table. If we were to get down to business some folks would put their money where their mouth is,” Melonie Green says. “Until we do that, and experience that, and see that, all these fancy words and cute statements — those are dead.”

Other works in the exhibit include a video installation on strippers by April Martin, a collection of portraits entitled “Mother Earth” by Bryon Malik, and photographs of a person enwrapped in a quilt-like, multicolored cloth by Adrian Octavius Walker. Walker’s work is entitled “Mortal Man.”

“If we were to see him in West Oakland, downtown Oakland, downtown San Francisco, we might have a different response and idea of who he is,” Melonie Green says. “But placing him in this show with the framework of the opulence of Blackness, in a setting with other spiritual elements, creates him as a shaman.”

“He could be our greatest prayer. He could be our greatest healer,” Melonie Green says. “We’d never know. It’s so many ways to break things open.”

Much of Don’t Shoot is about a “firm, unapologetic perspective” from Black artists, one that Melonie Green says manifests in Melorra Green’s language. 

“As Black curators, we wanted the space to be solely for Black people to inform,” Melorra Green says. “Everything from why the show is relevant, to who should be who be in the show, all the way to the branding, and so forth.”

The word “opulence” is key to the show’s theme.

“Opulence is like this word that exudes being exquisite, and precious, and priceless,” Melorra Green says. “And so we wanted to create a space in your mind first about what you would be walking into.”

At the start of Don’t Shoot, there’s a gold wall that carries the “Statement of Black Opulence.” “I AM the Opulence of Blackness,” it reads. “I am beautifully and wonderfully made.”

“Don’t Shoot: An Opus of the Opulence of Blackness”

Through March 1 at the Museum of African Diaspora,

685 Mission St., $5-$10; 415-358-7200, moadsf.org

Grace Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com.

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