Alanya N Pernell
© Nicole DiGiovanni
Alayna N. Pernell (b. 1996) was born and raised in rural Alabama, USA. In May 2019, she graduated from The University of Alabama where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art with a concentration in Photography and a minor in African American Studies. She received her MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2021. Pernell’s practice considers the gravity of the mental wellbeing of Black people concerning the physical and metaphorical spaces they inhabit. Her work has been exhibited in various cities across the United States. Pernell was also recently named the 2020-2021 recipient of the James Weinstein Memorial Award by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Photography; and the 2021 Snider Prize award recipient by the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
She is currently the Photography and Imaging Associate Lecturer in the Peck School of Arts at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
My practice considers the gravity of the mental wellbeing of Black people in relation to the spaces we inhabit, whether physically or metaphorically. In my interdisciplinary practice, I examine the harsh realities and complexities of being a Black American. As a product of Alabama, it was evident that the color of my skin alone was more offensive than any words I could say. The very possession of my Black body alone served to be quite traumatic. It shaped the person who I am today. It wasn’t until I reached adolescence, that I realized that I was far from being alone. There is a wear and tear on the Black body as a result of stress due to constant exposure to racism, sexism, and classism. This weathering affects generations, not individuals. Photography is often used as a tool to silence or mischaracterize marginalized people. This is why it is important to me in my photographic practice to consider the realities of others with compassion and respect. In each body of work I create, I attempt to create a space for healthy dialogue to occur.
Currently, my practice is revolving around two questions: 1) What can visual art tell us about the depiction of Black women throughout history, and 2) How have those negative depictions of Black women resulted in our lack of mental and physical care? I have spent months researching and uncovering suppressed images of Black women held in photographic collections at the Art Institute of Chicago. The images I have found and researched thus far depict the exploitation and violence towards Black women. In my practice, I have excavated, re-photographed, re-captioned, and re-contextualized the original works. By engaging with these images with the intervention of my hands and my body, I attempt to rescue and protect Black women’s bodies and their humanity, and also unearth their stories so that they can be seen and heard. With my ongoing body of work entitled Our Mothers’ Gardens, I beg for more than the visibility of Black women in institutional collections and hopeful reparations. I also desire for the issue around institutions holding and silencing collections of visible and (in)visible violent visual depictions of Black women to be further highlighted and appropriately corrected.
Release Date: May 6, 2022
In the 19th century, photographers began creating daguerreotypes. This is a photographic process that creates a very detailed image on a copper-plated sheet covered with a light coat of silver. It was a very tedious process and while it didn’t require a negative, it did need to be developed over hot mercury until the image was revealed. The images ranged from individual portraits to family portraits regardless of gender, race, and/or socioeconomic background.
A very common, yet unsettling subject matter of daguerreotypes was "nanny portraits". This image, With Care to You #2, which is one of 3 photographs of this subject matter that I photographed, is an example of a “nanny portrait” and there are plenty more where that came from. In these portraits, Black women posed with their slave owner's children. To be clear, the intended subject was not Black women. The intended subject matter was white children. The Black women signified nothing except being a symbol of wealth. This was only for slavers to show other slave-owning families that they could afford a nanny. I wanted to rephotograph the original image in a way that would bring attention to the Black women in a way that was more humane and loving, hence why I use my hands very heavily in this body of work.
With Care to You #2, 2020