Jonathan Gardenhire

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Artist Statement

Thelma Golden describes the African- American male as “one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century”—invented because “black masculinity represents an amalgam of fears and projections in the American psyche which rarely conveys or contains the trope of truth about the black male’s existence.” Over the course of my life, having to search for depictions of black men in popular culture, literature, and contemporary art have had a significant impact in the way I view myself and navigate through this world as a black man. Representations of black men are embedded with an unforgettable history of mistreatment and misrepresentation. Many of the images that I grew up looking at were some of the negative representations of black men both in American society and more broadly in our global society. Such depictions have aided in creating and understanding my images as refreshing interpretations of myself and black men around me.

My images explore representation, sexuality, kinship, and masculinity in black culture. The images serve to depict my own sensitivity, sensuality, forgiveness and quest to figure out what it means for me to be black, through portraits of other men and still life’s of objects that I associate with black culture and memory. I am questioning the notion of a prototype of the black male, individuality and diversity of the black male and “performances” of the black male body. By performances, I simply mean actions. In this instance, all of my images are actions by black males whether performances by me, performances for me, or for everyone else. I am also interested in how the black male body navigates through various spaces, from personal, to professional or social. The images rely heavily on the performances of black men then and now, but also explore my own sexuality and question my lust for the black male body.

I question if my own fascination and lust for and with black male beauty is a product of historical determinants or if my sexuality is truly independent from them. The images then juxtapose the fascination with the black male by society  (a fascination that is determined, in part, by this unforgettable history) with my own fascination (based on my homosexuality but also my own blackness). The only way I have had to understand and love myself as a black man was to appreciate and love other black men. Because of this complex structure, it is crucial for me to use different methods of photography, such as studio portraiture, and contemporary methods, such as appropriation. It is also crucial for me to practice a holistic approach to helping to improve and uplift the visuality of blackness though civic participation, community service and volunteerism.

In tandem with my photography practice, I have maintained a social practice rooted in my community in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Since 2011, I have been elected the Vice President of the Alfred E. Smith Houses Resident Association; a public housing development nestled between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in Lower Manhattan. As Vice President, I am a liaison between residents and housing management, but also to various elected officials. Through education, unlocking of untapped resources and ultimately– reassurance to residents who have for better or worse stopped believing that the system works in their favor, the project further exemplifies a commitment to re-presenting positive notions of blackness.

Some programs that I led the creation of are job readiness programs for young mothers, counseling and support programs for grandparents raising their grand children and an annual celebration of high school and college graduates in the community. In 2013, the resident association led in a collective of 6 other developments across New York City in protesting former Mayor Michael Bloomberg against a controversial plan to build private luxury housing across parks and various open spaces on public housing property; coincidentally the Bloomberg planned was scrapped. Emerging as a young leader in my community achieves what Erykah Badu describes as “changing the face of your ghetto neighborhood.” This multi-faceted, extensive practice, in essence, traces a “mis-history” in an attempt to redefine and reclaim perceptions of black identity through new and old imagery and the promotion of self-care.

Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, a text about the psychology of the racism and dehumanization of people of color has been described as: “full of discontinuities, changes in style, merging of genres, dramatic movement from analysis to pronouncements, switches from objective discussion to deep subjectivity, transfers from theory … complex use of extended metaphors, and not least, a number of apparent contradictions.” It is this type of mediated visual schizophrenia that I am most interested in; how the violent proliferation of image production helps to illustrate the complex relationship between the representation and politics of race.

I am constantly struggling to get at something; searching for something new. I am trying to locate what Carrie Mae Weems described as, “the who and what of yourself,” but perhaps all of this suggests that I am searching for the who and what of humanity. I am working at exposing a new sensitive element in the algorithm that makes up black people, denouncing the mainstream perception of blackness and illuminating the complexity and multidimensionality of Black reality. I expose a new “realized” negro that is, in essence, truly diverse with a rich history of good bad and ugly, but rich, nonetheless. I use photography to illustrate various personal explorations that try to unfold, reveal and thus teach; to use one word: love. I hope for the humanity of black people to shine through every single image, unapologetically, though sometimes problematically. My project is a practice of love.



BFA, Photography Parsons The New School for Design
NYS Regents Diploma High School of Fashion Industries
International Center of Photography Imagemakers Program – Photography Coursework
School of Visual Arts – Color Darkroom Photography Coursework
NYCDOE Summer Arts Institute – Darkroom Photography Coursework
NYCDOE Summer Arts Institute – Darkroom Photography Coursework


Bowerbird, Philadelphia, PA, Spring 2017 (forthcoming) MOREArts Engaging Artists, Winter 2016/2017 (forthcoming) 2016
‘Respond’, Bronx Art Space, New York, Spring 2016
Parsons BFA Thesis Exhibition, Milk Gallery, New York, May 2014
3 Gallery, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, 2014
3 Gallery, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, 2013
‘Found Photography’, The Case, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, 2013
Selected photos, “13”, Lombard-Freid Projects, Chelsea, NY, June 2011
Selected photos, Teen Academy Imagemakers Exhibition, The School at International Center of Photography, New York, June 2010
Selected photos, “13”, Lombard-Freid Projects, Chelsea, NY, June 2010
Selected photos, 8th Annual Vital Voices Group Show, Lex Leonard Gallery, New Jersey, October 2009
 Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder (Part 2), Principals Gallery @ HSFI, New York, June 2009
Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder, LES Young Artist Collective, New York, September 2008
Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder, Summer Arts Institute Final Exhibition, New York, 2008
Embrace, Summer Arts Institute Final Exhibition, New York, 2007

Engaging Artists Residency, MOREArt

Parsons The New School for Design

The Tenth Magazine Volume 4 (forthcoming) The Tenth Magazine Volume 3, December 2016 Nat.Brut Journal, No.6, November 2015

New York State Assembly Citation
New York Public Advocate Recognition Certificate
New York City Council Citation
New York State Senate Proclamation
Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition 2014 LaGuardia Presidential Scholar
New York City Council Proclamation
New York City Mayoral Proclamation
New York State Assembly Proclamation
New York City Council Citation
2010 – 2014
Dean’s BFA Scholarship
Parson BFA Scholarship
The New York School University Scholar
Black Retail Action Group Scholarship
National Dance Institute, Van Lier Fellow

Vice President, Alfred E. Smith Resident Association Executive Board, 2011 – 2016
Member, Manhattan Community Board 3 – Public Housing and Section 8 Subcommittee
Member, Good Old Lower East Side

2016- present
Executive Assistant, Creative Time
2014 – 2016
Assistant to the Curator, Salon 94
Communications Intern, Studio Museum in Harlem 2009 Artslife Intern, Museum of Arts and Design