First published in the Feb. 26, 2022, print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
For more than five weeks, Black Souls served as a moving glimpse into its artists’ perspective on the Black American experience, viewed through the windows at the Adams Square Mini Park Gas Station space.
Installed beginning on Jan. 18, Black Souls positioned a series of masks representing various cultures and ethnicities from Africa, alongside horizontal slabs of wood to evoke an American flag. The masks were made using old gas cans along with other materials to simulate hair and other accessories.
The exhibit, designed by French artist Martial Yapo, was meant to be a tribute to the enslaved African people who died on American soil, alone and far from their homes.
“I wanted to be able to look at it from a perspective of … what is the story of African Americans before everything that happened?” Yapo explained in an interview recorded by the Glendale Library, Arts and Culture Department. “I wanted to find a focus point in between the African Americans and the Africans, and where I position myself in this story.”
Yapo explained that he also arranged wood panels for the flag’s stripes in a way that evoked the manner in which slaves were transported by sea — locked row by row, confined to such shelves in the decks of ships. He emphasized that the installation was not to disrespect the American flag, but rather to deconstruct it.
In fact, compared to his home nation France, Yapo said he admired how Black artists like himself are regarded in the United States.
“I feel like in the U.S., that Black art is celebrated, and in France, Black art is ignored and not even considered,” he said in the interview, which can be viewed on YouTube. “The only way Black art would be considered in France is African artifacts and all of that, but that’s going to reside in museums. When you know the history of how the French acquired all those artifacts, it doesn’t put them in a positive light.”
The Glendale Arts and Culture Commission sponsored the exhibit through the Urban Art Fund.
“It’s a very thought-provoking installation that the arts and culture commission was proud to sponsor,” said commissioner Arlene Vidor.