Akea Brown is a photographer and researcher whose work investigates the intersectional themes of race, socioeconomics, and identity. Her photographs explore the implications of historical, racial, and social structures in relation to the development of contemporary black life and identity within America. With a particular focus on the ways in which history influences the contemporary cultural milieu of the American black middle class, she focuses on how to explore today’s African American community as it relates to historical forms of oppression, discrimination, and segregation in American history.
Akea has received the Visual Task Force Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. Her work is also featured in the Smithsonian’s Ralph Rinzler Collection and Archives, and was recently acquired by the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art Collection.
Akea was born in 1996, in New Orleans, Louisiana and currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland. In May 2018, Akea received her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, in the dual degree program of Photography and Integrated Humanities.
IG: @uh_kea !
Black Picket Fences is a photographic series encompassing environmental portraiture and documentary photographs of contemporary black households and the everyday lives of those who inhabit them. The project manifested through my own personal critique and observation of the suburban landscape as an ideologically “white space.” I began to consider the importance of representation and exposure in relation to the formation of black identity, the performativity of blackness, and the ways in which the home transforms into a place of familiarity and/or unfamiliarity depending on who enters the space. In turn, this body of work aims to highlight an often overlooked group in contemporary American culture: the black, suburban middle class. While this group has not been entirely forgotten, it is hard to define. For some, these photographs might be the first and most intimate form of contact or interaction they might have with a black household.
While chasing these interactions and interior spaces, I was inspired by one central question: If the ethos of the suburban landscape is largely understood as an ideologically “white” space, how do we begin to discuss the paradox of the black suburb and the ways in which it challenges to concept of whiteness? It became important to think about the suburban landscape, not simply in terms of a continuous area, but as an object that has the ability to be altered and shaped to benefit those who inhabit it. Black Picket Fences seeks to highlight, dissolve, and reject the racist construction of the suburban landscape by showing blacks who now inhabit the suburban landscape- a space that was never intended to benefit them.
The portraits are primarily photographed in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, which in addition to having an African-American demographic of over 63%, has gained national recognition as the “nation’s most dangerous city.”. By photographing the black community that exists within the city and its surrounding communities, we begin to confront the lack of intersectionality within contemporary representations of middle class- black life in America.