Perseverance in Curtis Anderson's Mixtape

Arts & Culture

Photo credit; Curtis Anderson.

From 2008 to 2013, photographer Curtis Anderson lived in a bubble. In that span, he attended and graduated from Ringling College with a degree in Advertising Design, then spent a year interning with the Disney College Program. Inside that supportive bubble, Anderson, who is Black, could pretend that the turmoil existing inside and outside himself did not exist. “In 2012 Trayvon Martin had just been shot,” he says, “and I was numb to it, like it was just a headline I read.”

Then he moved back to Sarasota and his numbness turned to despair. He battled depression, homelessness and thoughts of suicide, pulled back from the brink by his strong Christian faith. He eventually began attending a predominantly white church, which gave him a sense of community and allowed him to deepen his relationship with his faith.

Then came the murder of George Floyd. “I shut down and wondered if God cared. Suddenly I felt really uneasy in church,” he says, “and I felt like I wasn’t able to be completely myself; Black and Christian.”

And here, in this moment of uncertainty and insecurity, Anderson found an opportunity to rise to the moment rather than edge towards the brink. The Story I’ll Tell: The Mixtape, Anderson’s photography exhibition inside Ringling College’s Skylight Gallery, sees him face the hard questions and, more importantly, challenge its viewers to face those questions with him.

The collection features strong imagery that spoke to the moment. A black and white picture of a husky white man draped in a Confederate flag; Anderson face down on the pavement with a white man kneeling on his back; a white preacher blindfolded with an American flag. “In the initial stages, the show was a response to what I considered ignorance,” says Anderson, “like, ‘how can you not see the injustice?’” In his conversations with fellow parishioners, Anderson was posed an equally difficult question: What’s bigger, the Black Lives Matter movement or Jesus. “And it hurt me to answer that Jesus was bigger,” he says, “but in that moment I suddenly felt like my anger didn’t have to define me.”

And that sense of reconciliation pervades his series. Though the themes are bold and explicit, the subjects are also humanized. It’s a snapshot of the emotional journey Anderson traversed over the last several years, and as the class of 2021 prepares to graduate and enter a world itself beset by polarization and uncertainty, Anderson offers a message he wishes he could tell his younger self.

“In the end, I’ve learned that you have to be unapologetically you,” he says. “Be respectful and willing to listen to others, but you’ve got to go out there and create that space to be who you are.”

Anderson’s exhibition runs through July 31st and can be viewed virtually or by making an in-person appointment.

Photo credit; Curtis Anderson.

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