Processing the collective trauma we've endured in the last year may be a difficult task, and local artist Yesi Fortuna wants to shine a light on the Black community by showing solidarity in the form of art.
As a self-proclaimed ally, Fortuna knew she had to reach out to those traumatized by what they had seen on their news feeds this past year. Last summer, following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Fortuna felt compelled to take some action.
“I couldn't rest my head on my pillow in peace until I felt like I had reached people and said, ‘Hey, I'm here with you. Hey, you're not alone. Hey, there's lots of love and joy in this world, please don't fall into a trap of feeling like you're unwanted,’” she says.
Over the course of two days last summer, Fortuna opened up Fort Lion Studio and invited Black families and individuals to take free photos and express their emotions through photography.
“I wanted to be there personally with individuals who felt like they needed to change in their day-to-day,” Fortuna says, “because a lot of people weren't even stepping outside, not only because of COVID, but because they were truly, truly frightened with what was happening in the world.”
While taking these photos, Fortuna was happy to offer a safe space for people to discuss their feelings. This also allowed her to hear their reactions to the police brutality that had taken place over the year.
Throughout the month of February, Fortuna will have “30 to 40” of these photos on display in an exhibition called Black is Beautiful at Galleria Dallas. The photos show Black individuals, families and community influencers expressing a variety of emotions, showing their resilience.
“It's very special and warm, because you'll get to see lots of beautiful faces that are expressing different emotions,” Fortuna says. “But by and large, they're all joyous, and very warm and inviting. And while their job is not to give us a sense of peace and hope, it should be the other way around, somehow, you're feeling renewed by seeing that Black resilience is alive and well.”
Black is Beautiful is a continuation of a movement by photographer Kwame Brathwaite, who used his photography to popularize the "Black is Beautiful" slogan throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Fortuna herself is passionate about activism, human rights and equality. Other photo series of hers include a series on child sexual abuse survivors.
“Through the tool of photography, I could tell stories of showing survivors and showing that being a survivor doesn't look a certain way,” Fortuna says. “That being a survivor means living your best life and continuing forward, even though you've had these traumatic situations in life.”
After February, Fortuna isn’t sure what is next for the Black is Beautiful movement, but she hopes that other business owners will open up their spaces and provide safe environments for people of all walks of life.
Fortuna's project is one of many recent endeavors in the city to honor victims of police brutality.
Recently, Dallas City Council approved renaming a portion of Lamar Street to Botham Jean Boulevard, after a Black man who was killed in his apartment by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger. Local artist and architect Daniel Gunn was also recently announced as the winner of the Perot Museum’s Staircase Project contest, in which he designed a staircase installation called "Giant Steps," showcasing the accomplishments of Black people in STEM. These steps will be on display until Memorial Day.
Through movements and efforts similar to these, Fortuna feels that more allies should make an effort to validate other people’s struggles. She also believes that we should share and celebrate moments of joy with people of other minority groups.
“Because I am not a Black individual. I'm hoping that other potential allies will find a way to get involved and find a way to help to support the communities,” Fortuna says. “Because while I'm not Black, I am a minority. Furthermore, I am human. And anytime there is a human rights issue, all of us should be involved.”