Photos
Off Kilter. Photo by Shawn Theodore.

This Photo Series Is a Portal to New Dimensions of Black Life

Philadelphia-based artist Shawn Theodore walks us through his stunning solo exhibition, "Church of Broken Pieces."

Church of Broken Pieces is a photo series by Philadelphia-based artist, Shawn Theodore, that celebrates the African diaspora in mysterious and dynamic ways.


The series recently wrapped up its exhibition at Richard Beavers Gallery in Brooklyn, where he wanted to envision the connection the black community has with spirit through breathtaking images.

As Theodore began to research and conceptualize this series in 2012, he realized that the African American community lacks a real throughline of mythology. He knew he was onto something and sought to work in a space where his questions of exploration live in the 'because of' space, instead of the 'what if' space that you'll find in Afrofuturist art.

Each photo of Church of Broken Pieces is an interwoven narrative of the cycle of black life. Theodore takes your hand and leads you into a new spiritual world of black boy joy, black women magic—and even pain and death. The minimalism creates of sense of calm as he plays on his strength of utilizing natural light and shadow to fill your eyes with rich color.

Click on the slideshow to see Theodore's in depth commentary on eight of his favorite pieces in the series underneath.

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Gamma Capricorn at the Castle Door

Photo by Shawn Theodore.

"For each project, I start off with an entryway piece. One of my main things that I love to do is find places in our neighborhoods that are monumental in scope, or size or design, but largely ignored. These are power centers that just don't have any meaning because—what are we doing with them?

This piece was the first piece I shot for the entire body of work. I knew of this gigantic thing in the neighborhood, this is actually about a half mile from where I live, and it's [made of] project steps. When they were making the projects they didn't want to take the project steps back with them, so they decided to just make some sort of ad-hoc art. It's a monstrosity—it's huge. But when I started to take a look at it, from different angles, it started to really had this beautiful, sort of opening quality to it.

I had an idea of what my African American heaven would look like, it would be a Jenga-like opening, and it would borrow so much from the architecture and style of West Africa. I thought this was a good way to start this because we start from one door of no return, and here we have a door that, allows you into this world—this spiritual sensibility of what's happening. That's where I started, and I'm kind of proud of it."

Keep up with him via his website and on Instagram.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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