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Archivist Renata Cherlise opens up a world of Black imagination

If a picture tells a thousand words, then does the absence of a picture deprive us of this same amount? Especially in Black history, telling complete stories through photos is of the utmost importance, and Black archivist and Founder of Black Archives Renata Cherlise makes sure to bring under-told stories to the forefront through visceral images.

Black Archives is uncovering and curating rarely-seen photographs from Getty Images’ vast archive. Cherlise will sift through the more than 11 million photos to document centuries’ worth of photos of Black history.

Not only is Black history rarely told, it is even more rarely seen. And often when Black stories of the past are given shine, disturing agendas are at play.

Thus, Black Archives and Getty Images’ collaboration will give audiences a view into a world, for many, of the unknown.

With stories large and small, globally or regionally relevant, Black Archives works to paint experiences in their totality. And to remind the youth especially, that Black beauty has always been captured. Stories just needed to be reclaimed and retold.

black archivist
A group of top African American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)

We had the honor of asking Cherlise a few questions about the project and Black Archives’ mission as a whole.

In conversation with Black archivist Renata Cherlise

Kulture Hub: What do you look for in selecting and archiving a select amount of images, and in this case with Getty Images, a collection of more than 11 million photographs? To word it differently, can you put your finger on any consistent thing an image holds when it strikes you?

Renata Cherlise: I feel a great responsibility to bring the under-told stories of Black life to the forefront. Our existence is multi-faceted, and I’m drawn to and focused on curating imagery that brings those stories to the surface, in often quiet and subtle ways.

View of ballet dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, in costume and rehearsing on stage, New York, 1983. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

KH: What do you want the legacy of Black Archives to be as it endures through decades and generations? 

RC: I want the legacy of Black Archives to be that we widened the aperture on Black stories; that we created more space for Black artists to be seen and felt; and that we helped pass those narratives along to younger generations.

KH: Popular media clearly often exacerbates stereotypes of various demographics (like Black people), and thus also pushes narratives onto them that serve to sequester them from what is really common in many people’s daily lives. How does Black Archives work to push against this, and show everyday Black life in ways that many people can’t even yet imagine?

RC: Media focuses on our trauma. And our trauma is not our lone narrative.

We work to push against the negligent depictions of Black life by showing us in our totality. We focus on the alternative to tell a complete story.

Renata Cherlise for Kulture Hub

Black Archives is a platform for celebrating Black life

Black archivists are essential because they highlight experiences that have been purposefully left out of mainstream discussions.

Breaking barriers, fighting against powers determined to hold them down, and still living freely in worlds that try their hardest to make this impossible, Black beauty is robust. But Renata Cherlise and those like her are of paramount importance to documenting Black life in its entirety.

Make sure to stay tapped in to Cherlise’s work and the growing partnership between Black Archives and Getty Images.