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Harlem Postcards
July–August 2021

Jul 15, 2021Aug 31, 2022

Throughout the twentieth century, Harlem has been regarded as a beacon of African-American history and culture. Sites such as the Apollo Theater, Abyssinian Baptist Church, and Malcolm X Corner, at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, serve as popular postcard images that represent significant places and moments in this community.  

Today, Harlem continues to evolve as a center of history and culture. Every day, changes are witnessed by its residents and experienced by tourists and visitors from all over the world. Harlem Postcards, an ongoing project, invites contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds to reflect on Harlem as a site of cultural activity, political vitality, and creative production.

This Harlem Postcard is by Expanding the Walls 2021 participant Fatoumata Traoré. Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History and Community is an eight-month photography-based program for a select group of students enrolled in a high school or GED program.

Fatoumata Traoré, Rooted, 2021. Digital chromogenic print. Courtesy the artist. 

On the days that I attend school, I walk on 125th, and I can’t ignore the rich culture it holds. I see people selling beautiful African products, and it keeps me smiling because it reminds me of the markets back in Mali. When I see a mother and her child in African attire it reminds me of all the days in Mali when I would beg my grandmother to let me play in my yellow dress. When I see people selling waist beads on the sidewalks it reminds me of the days my grandmother would take me to the market to buy new jewelry because it was her way of showing me her love. The fabric that’s used to make African attire never gets old. It can be cut into a skirt, a dress, or pants. There are thousands of designs, and the people who make them by hand are so creative. They, too, are artists that the African community truly appreciates.

When I came across a man selling these clothes in Harlem, at first I just took a picture of the tribal women on a poster in the background and stared at the image for a while. Then I started looking around and saw this beautiful Black woman near it. I immediately walked up to her and said these exact words: “You are very beautiful, and I’m currently trying to take a picture of the background of this poster behind me, but I would love it if you would get in the picture, if you’re comfortable.''

She automatically said yes and suggested that her daughter get in the image, too. They stood in front of the clothes and poster, I took a few seconds to fix the ISO, turned the camera to portrait mode, and then waited a few seconds to get the clearest picture. What made me ask this woman to be in the picture was the fact that I weave culture and emotion into my photography. I find that Harlem reminds me of my culture and traditions. I notice that the people in Harlem also appreciate the beauty of Africa and women with melanin. I am an artist who likes to capture things that I am familiar with, and everything in this picture exemplifies me and where I come from.