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Blactiquing - Kevin Jones

“A lot of the pieces here are from the United States and reflect my family’s experiences here in the United States, but we don’t start at that place. Understand there is so much history we had as Black people before we came to the United States. Our history in Africa, European slavery, the Carribean, Black Moors from the 16th and 17th centuries, all with different parts of the same history. Even here in the US, depending on where the slaves were located, their experiences were different.

Then we jump hundreds of years into the Reconstruction era with pieces showing how Blacks were depicted. You see blackface and a painting of George Washington coming back from a fox hunt with a Black woman serving him watermelon. You have caricatures of every kind.

But it’s also interesting that a lot of these pieces existed in the places where people would find the most comfort in their homes and on their food. There is a sick reverence for Black people, but shown in ways that promoted servitude.

I have things specifically from Saginaw, like a newspaper advertising the showing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin featuring the Majestic Colored Quartet. Al Jolson had music produced here. Over in the Music Room, you’ll see blackface records where you see ‘Pressed in Saginaw, Michigan’ at the bottom. 

30 to 40 percent of these items came from the Great Lakes Bay region. I walk into antique shops and think ‘What can I find about Black people?’ I’m hoping I can inspire folks to not only collect and examine important parts of Black history, but their own personal histories as well.

On the rear wall are the dolls. Dolls have a varied experience depending on who they were used by, but I try to find things that represent all different parts of Black history: the African Diaspora, South African and Zulu nations, England, and a beautiful Black doll from Belize, dolls were made by grandmothers and mothers with whatever leftover scraps that could find.

Dolls are complicated, and they’re complicated for me. My mother was a collector of dolls and I got in trouble at school, as a young black boy, for playing with dolls. I was actually told I was not prepared to go on in school because I isolated myself, so displaying all of these dolls as a centerpiece in the room shows their importance in Black history, my personal history, and that I can now, as a Black gay man, play with dolls.

I want everyone to see a part of themselves here, regardless of what race they are. They can come into this space and find something they relate to. I’ve met people who have had some of these items in their homes and they feel conflicted, they try to make sense of what they have and that can spark up a powerful story and dialogue.

My interest gradually developed over time. My great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my mothers were either collectors themselves or stewards of archives. So I watched them as I grew up, just having so much stuff. They wouldn’t get rid of it.

My mom made sure pieces were protected and cared for, even though there was so much of it. I started to go out and buy bits and pieces for my own collection, but just small things like salt and pepper shakers.

Then COVID hit and I ended up being the only Black person on the Zoom screen. My background was blank and I wanted to fill it up. Everyone was telling us to make a ‘Zoom Room’ and my room wasn’t reflecting anything about me. So I said I was going to go out and fill my space up.

I went out and found the antique shops and for a year, I went on this hunt. The folks at the antique shops embraced these things because they’re history, but they’re not just that - they have a SPECIFIC history and a lot of people won’t talk about that history because it’s uncomfortable.

But I want people to talk through that discomfort. Black, white, whoever. Blactiquing, for me, is the intentional process of collecting, preserving and sharing stories of Black experiences. I want people to talk about this history and understand that this is part of the United States history. I want people to talk about Juneteenth, the Fourth of July, and complexity between the two. When I lived in DC, I would ride my bike past the house where Frederick Douglass lived and how he, an enslaved African, still believed in hope, freedom, progress - and a sense that there is still so much more to do.

I want this to invite people to be a part of what’s developing in Saginaw. I don’t believe Saginaw can be what it can be if people who live here and who care about the city don’t put themselves into it. That means sweat equity. Showing off your talents, your skills, and whatever you might be able to contribute. I want people to go out museums just because they’re interested.

This exhibit as a whole is about sharing culture and experience. This is a history museum. I want people to be inspired and to know that history is complicated. I want to create conversations that talk deeply about these things beyond just saying things like ‘showing these things promotes those stereotypes’, which has been one of my critiques.

These things make us uncomfortable, and they should. But we need to be willing to share our history and talk about how complicated it is. As a Black person, this country is a place that enslaved people like me for 400 years and continued that slavery through systematic discrimination is so many ways. So in order for me to have a love for this country and have a love from Blackness, I have to embrace the complicatedness of what it means for me to be in the United States of America.

What started as a hobby soon became a passion when Blactiquing founder, Kevin Jones, instinctively heard the voices of the ancestors as he held the artifacts in his hands. Each doll, each salt and pepper shaker, each piece of Black memorabilia that he found in his grandmother’s collection as a kid and in antique stores, later as an adult, told one of the countless stories of those that came before him. According to Kevin, “these items and their stories become all the more precious to a people denied their history, their customs, their culture, their language, and their very names.”

Blactiquing seeks to find and share stories of Black experiences in the US and beyond by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting artifacts and engaging communities in meaningful conversations about how they were used and what they represent.

The value and power of these artifacts is readily apparent as it’s becoming more and more difficult to find them, despite their wide use and circulation historically in the US. Dealers, sellers, and collectors—many who are white—have described being harassed, ridiculed, and called “racist” for having them in their retail shops and collections. Others have shared stories of buyers who acquire items and intentionally destroy or use them to recall and celebrate racist narratives and worldviews. Collecting and preserving these precious pieces of history has now become a race against time. Their absence could alter how these histories are told and mis-represent how Black people may have experienced them.

Blactiquing was established with the understanding of all of the above. Kevin believes that Blactiques are beautiful and emotionally charged, given their references to Black people and how the US and other societies have celebrated and detested Blackness. For these reasons, it’s necessary and critical to collect these items and pass their stories and significance to future generations.

Kevin treats each piece as a found treasure and handles them with greater care and dignity than their owners, especially those who were Black, were likely ever afforded. Using traditional cleansing methods to lovingly rid these precious items of excessive dirt and unwelcome energies, is his way of recognizing those who used these items originally. Lovers of Black histories, Black people, and Black experiences can appreciate this nuanced and complicated history.

Blactiquing does not aim to “resale” items from its collection. Instead, Blactiquing uses an intentional process to transfer ownership to the right person or suitable collectors who also commit to preserving and using it as an opportunity to educate others. Fees associated with transferring ownership allow for the acquisition of additional Black artifacts, preserving them, and storing or placing them in a growing network of collectors who are intentional about their Blactiquing work.

Representing primarily the pre-Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights Movement eras, the archive houses mostly Black memorabilia: Black dolls, salt and pepper shakers, race-themed advertisements, wood carved pieces, newspaper clippings, Black religious artifacts, postcards, photographs and original art, works of musicians and other performers, sports trading cards, vintage toys and board games, as well as quilts and other textiles.

Currently, traveling pop-up exhibits and an online presence (mostly on Facebook and Instagram) helps educate the masses about Blactiquing and encourages others to engage in their own Blactiquing journey. Kevin dreams of a Black-themed, boutique-style museum and antique shop to facilitate additional learning opportunities and showcase the collection. He also envisions a Blactiquing-style "Antique Roadshow" on a streaming network that follows these efforts and the varied stories he’s uncovering while searching for and finding Blactiques.