My Black LA is a community-generated archive project highlighting works by African-American artists, writers, and creators, who document the vibrant culture and history of the Black Angeleno experience. Artist Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin writes about his “Black Space” photography project, which captures the beauty of the urban environments of LA’s Leimert Park and Crenshaw Districts.
Los Angeles is a complex mosaic of distinct neighborhoods that is simply too large and diverse to be described in general terms. The expansive landscape is home to an intricate collection of individual neighborhoods that combine to form one of the world’s great cities. Many of them are almost worlds unto themselves, complete with specific slang, traditions, and cultural norms that differentiate them from one another. Their respective histories are written by the residents who live there, and can be seen in the physical composition of the neighborhoods themselves.
In the not-so-distant past, discriminatory tactics such as red-lining, racially restrictive covenants, and other forms of intimidation were used to restrict the places African-Americans could live throughout Los Angeles. These were some of the forces that shaped the demographic composition of neighborhoods including Crenshaw and Leimert Park.
Growing up in Los Angeles, this area was an integral part of Black culture in the city. The reality on the ground often contrasted with the way it was described in the media. Black neighborhoods in general were often presented disparagingly in contrast with the idyllic myth of the American neighborhood that continues to dominate popular culture to this day.
"Black Space” is my collection of photographs documenting the urban landscape of Black neighborhoods. In recent years I have had the opportunity to photograph neighborhoods in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. This set of photographs is part of an ongoing project centered around the Leimert Park and Crenshaw District, as the new Metro train line nears completion.
Photographing the landscape is a large part of documenting the lives of the people who inhabit it. The built-environment is part of what gives a neighborhood its identity. The topography and architecture are both monuments to what once was and an active reimagining of what can be. The combination of older, hand painted lettering with modern typography and imagery is indicative of the ongoing reinterpretation of the urban space.
Over time buildings are used in ways that extend far beyond their original purpose, adapting to fit the needs of current residents. Spaces are reused and repurposed in parallel to the evolving needs of the populace.
Regardless of how they are currently utilized, their physical presence is often a reminder that everything was not always as it is.