The concept is simple: 28 women holding pictures of their deceased loved ones. The pose has been seen time and time again but somehow this resonates.
These are Genocide Moms, the latest chapter in an ongoing series by freelance photographer, Tobechi Tobechukwu. Each one of them has lost a child, sometimes two, sometimes three, to Black on Black violence.
These are stories that we have to hear over and over again,” said Tobechukwu in an interview with the AFRO at Terra Café, where the exhibit is on display. “Some of these kids are just sitting at a dinner table when a stray bullet kills them.”
Tobechukwu knew at least one victim personally and said he uses the term genocide because the disturbing dimensions of Black children and adults killed annually span not just his hometown of Baltimore, but are occurring in places like Minneapolis, Minn. where he has conducted a similar photo project.
In black and white photos, the eyes of mothers and wives of dead African Americans peering out from each black matte, Tobechukwu effectively puts faces on what he calls an epidemic that has gripped the U.S. for decades.
He also said that part of this series is a direct result of a day when he was just nine years old and witnessed homicide for the first time in his West Baltimore neighborhood.
Tobechukwu said he believes part of the issue is that there was no emotional healing when Blacks were released from slavery and that the needed psychotherapy is out of the question financially for most families of color. At the same time, he said, Black men live in a country where they are taught to express their anger, not their feelings.
The current exhibit is just one facet of a series called “Reparations,” that includes images of fathers dealing with the loss of life from Black on Black violence and another set of photographs that focuses on stereotypes of the black community.
In addition to the many mothers photographed in the series who have buried a son or a daughter, there are images, too, of some mothers whose children are in prison as a result of Black on Black violence.
Tobechukwu said he believes it is important to include mothers whose children have committed murder because the effect of homicide is virtually the same on the family of a slayer as it on the family of the slain.
That’s two men gone and two families broken,” he said, slowly walking along the exhibit, explaining the background information behind each photograph. “We have one kid dead, another one in prison for 15-20 years. What do you do when their child is going to school and they ask ‘What does your mom or dad do for a living?’ and they say ‘My dad is in prison’ and another has to say ‘My dad is dead.’”
Tobechukwu said a common theme among all of the women, no matter what city they were from, is the strength they have shown since their tragedy.
“The women are the last stronghold in our communities,” said Tobechukwu, adding that many of the mothers have been left raising the children of the deceased or imprisoned.
“At least six of the mothers, because of that death, have created non-profits to fight for nonviolence,” he said. “These women have taken their pains and done incredible things in our community- but they shouldn’t have to lose someone for that to happen.”
When he photographs the women, it is often done in two sessions. The first sitting is an informal meeting where the women speak about their experiences and become comfortable with the artist. In the second session the women relax and connect with the lens, he said.
The photographs are made in a variety of spaces. Some prefer to be photographed in their homes rather than Tobechukwu’s studio. Others choose the site of their son or daughter’s death as a backdrop.
Owner of the Lower Charles Village eater, Terence Dixon, said there has been a positive response to the work by customers who have been drawn to the photographs.
“It’s something that has touched everybody. Everybody knows someone who has lost someone to Black on Black violence. Hopefully this will bring some attention to what’s going on,” said Dixon. “We have to take back our communities and bring them back to where they were before segregation.
“Until we say ‘enough is enough’ it’s going to be the same. Society has already shown that they don’t care and will allow us to commit a genocide among ourselves