Alanna Airitam’s photographic project, “The Golden Age” celebrates a vision of Black Americans that is uplifting, inspiring, and empowering.
In 10 luscious and elegant large-scale portraits, the artist features contemporary African Americans as symbolic saints who are simultaneously magnificent and powerful.
The title refers to an era of portrait painting when Dutch Old Masters like Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer created images of the merchant class to highlight their sitters’ stature and wealth. Airitam uses the trappings of these centuries-old oil paintings–with their dramatic lighting, rich fabrics, and symbolic items–in contemporary portraits. She combines historical references with the Harlem Renaissance period of artistic efflorescence in the early 20th century; each portrait is given a fictional title, combining “Saint” with a Harlem, New York, street name.
“This act of reawakening and reconfirming value in one’s self-identity helped me resist the despondency I was experiencing from the increasing number of violent acts against the Black community in America,” says Airitam. “In this way, art has been an act of rebellion and a source of activism for me.”
“The Golden Age” belongs to a larger discussion about omission and erasure of Black experiences within the telling of North American history and the damaging impact of art historical biases. These photographs assertively contribute to a new visual culture that focuses on Black beauty, innovation, and connectedness. Airitam points out, “As humans, we believe what we see and we become what we believe.”