Master of Fine Arts Thesis Captures Black Lives Matter Movement

People protesting at a Black Lives Matters protest in Rochester, NY.

A Visual Studies Workshop thesis project, led by graduate student Rashaad Parker ’05, received a grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

It started as a community passion project aimed at telling the unvarnished story of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Now, the months-long photo and video composition is nearing completion as the graduate thesis of Rashaad Parker ’05, who will become a two-time SUNY Brockport alum this spring.

The recipient of a $46,500 grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation, the project is the first to be partially funded by the foundation’s new Arts Prevail Fund, created to support local art organizations through the era of COVID-19 and promote racial equity in the arts. The grant is also supported by the foundation’s Robertson Family Fund and Community Impact Fund.

Parker, who will earn a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Studies through the Visual Studies Workshop, leads a team of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who have been working to capture the racial justice movement from street to studio since last year. The photographers and videographers involved are Cocoa Rae David, Isaiah Santiago, Sean Dell Boose (South Town Images), Carina Christman, Elijah Ross, Bertram Torres (Mood Lit Images), Rashad Scott (The Renaissance NY), and Devin Anglin (Static Vibrations Network).

The finished product will serve as a historical archive through hundreds of collected photos and video clips, an on-the-street video interview series called “Roc City Speaks,” a long-form documentary, and other forms of art.

“I hired artist Shawn Dunwoody to create a mural that would illustrate the racial oppression that Rochester uniquely has experienced — the past, the present, and the future — what protests have looked like and what peace could look like between the police and Black folx in Rochester,” said Parker, community outreach coordinator at Flower City Arts Center.

He intends for the various exhibits to put viewers in the shoes of protesters.

“I hope that it will have an impact on people’s perception of protests and give them insight into the spirit of protests and why we do what we do, I hope that Rochester comes away better informed and able to make the changes that the city so desperately needs, I hope that mental health awareness is heightened and that people get the help that they need, and I hope that young people get to see the work as access to their history for generations to come,” said Parker.

Parker picked up the last of his on-the-street footage in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The final stage of curating and compiling the team’s work of the last six months is now in progress.

Documenting the causes he cares about with a camera in hand is a decades-old pastime for Parker. As part of the McNair Program during his undergraduate years, he remembers borrowing the college’s video cameras to capture the research that he presented across the country.

“This idea of documenting and being in people’s faces with a camera is as organic as it comes, because I was this guy a long time ago,” he said.

The components of his thesis project will be integrated as art installations in Rochester galleries, including The Black House on Tremont Street in April. The documentary will be available for online viewing in the future.

Parker’s artist exhibition will be free and open to the public, with donations welcome.

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