Beneath These Restless Skies, an interactive multimedia exhibition by 2017 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellow Harriet Dedman, is currently on view at The Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, New York. The work “tracks the life of 24-year-old Trevor Brown and his wider generation: disenfranchised, with limited social mobility and meager opportunities to move beyond an education secured in a post affirmative action era,” states the press release. Brown’s experiences fuelled a battle with depression and time at the Psychiatric Ward of Harlem Hospital.
Inspired by Gordon Parks’ Civil Rights-era photo essay about the Fontenelle family that was published in LIFE magazine 50 years ago, Beneath These Restless Skies explores issues of identity and opportunity in present-day West Harlem. The Brown family lives on the same stretch of 123rd Street as the Fontenelles did –and do– and “face many of the same enduring hardships—poverty, unemployment and racism,” acknowledges the press release.
Taken over the course of two years (2015-2017), Dedman says, “This is a series about identity and stereotypes, profiles and profiling, and a generation of young men lost in the wake of marching change – 50 years after Gordon Parks.”
In the wake of the LIFE publication, the Fontenelles were relocated to Queens, New York, by readers who wanted to support the family. A few months later, a Molotav cocktail was thrown at their new home, destroying it and killing Norman Fontenelle, the head of the household, and nine-year-old Kenneth Fontenelle. Bessie Fontenelle returned to Harlem with her remaining children. Kenneth Gordon Fontenlle, 24, the grandchild of Norman and Bessie, still lives in Harlem. Dedman found him via social media. He had never seen the pictures of his family that Parks had taken before Dedman shared them with him.
The name of the series comes from a phrase spoken by Parks in the film Diary of a Harlem Family, 1968. Sitting alongside Norman Fontenelle in Harlem, Parks says, “We too are America. America is us. It gave us the only life we know – so we must share in its survival. Look at us. Listen to us. Try to understand us. Our appeal is urgent. There is yet a chance for all of us to live in peace beneath these restless skies.”
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First Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowships Awarded to Devin Allen, Harriet Dedman (for PDN subscribers; login required)