When Dallas photographer Yesi Fortuna saw civil unrest unfolding around the country after George Floyd’s death last summer, she felt compelled to help. So she picked up her camera.
On June 4, 2020, Fortuna opened the doors to her Fort Lion Studio and invited Dallas’ Black community for free portraits that would serve as a celebration of Black resilience. So many people were interested, she reopened for a second day. The results are now on display in "Black is Beautiful DFW," a new exhibit that has opened for Black History Month at Galleria Dallas.
“The public response to George Floyd’s murder last May left many Black people feeling vulnerable, unheard and, most importantly, traumatized, as they were forced to grieve with no comfort through justice,” Fortuna says in a release. “I observed this reaction and felt inclined to nurture the souls of people experiencing this pain. I felt it was part of my duty as an ally.”
Her campaign was part of a revival of the “Black Is Beautiful” movement started in the 1960s by the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS) in Harlem as an act of defiance and deep self-love while promoting Black culture. (Read more about its history on the Fort Lion site.)
Fortuna's project got a boost when a grant from the Dallas Office of Arts and Culture allowed her studio to put the photos in three ad kiosks in Fair Park, Deep Ellum, and West Village.
The Galleria exhibit includes portraits of 30 Dallas families, individuals, and community influencers. Among them: Jay Grishby, Charis and Javory Moon, Olachi Uzoma Morrel, Erika Watkins, Hakeem Adewemi, Simi Adewemi, Sanya and Saveah Goodson, J'la Dade, Jonai Simmons, Denzel Knight and Doniqua Portley, Ryan Rich, and Autumn Heckard.
"I think representation matters in ways we as humans can hardly articulate,” says Josette Archin, a subject in the photo series. “I know that visually we as Black folks are not represented as readily as the European standard of beauty, and the only way to dismantle it is for Black people to feel seen and be seen and celebrated in our many walks of embodiment."
“Black is Beautiful DFW” portraits will hang on the Gallery Wall across from Apple on Level 1 of the Galleria through February 28. It is free to view, and visitors can learn more via a QR code included in the display.