EYE CANDY

Black Cowboys Are Missing From America’s Iconic Imagery

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Depending on who you ask, the word “cowboys” tends to conjure up beefy football players in Dallas or stoic, John Wayne-like white men in hats, a bit dusty from hanging out on horses in the West. What rarely ever comes to mind, though, are images of black cowboys, despite the fact that African-American men and women have just as long of a history of training, keeping, and riding horses—not to mention wearing the same leather fringe and 10-gallon hats. “Black Cowboy,” an exhibition up at the Studio Museum in Harlem, aims to correct that oversight with documentary-like contributions by artists like Kahlil Joseph, whose slow-motion video captures a rodeo in Oklahoma, and Deana Lawson, whose scenes of shirtless men on horseback in Georgia look freer than her carefully staged tableaux of black domestic life (which are currently on view at the Whitney Biennial). They did not lack for material: communities everywhere from the Federation of Black Cowboys in Queens to the rodeos mounted within the Louisiana State Penitentiary (captured by the photographers Brad Trent and Chandra McCormick, respectively) are still keeping alive a tradition that started all the way back in the 1800s, when an estimated one in four Texan cowboys was black. Brush up on your history before the show closes on April 2nd, here.

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Ron Tarver, “A Ride by North Philly Rows,” 1993.

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Brad Trent, “‘Mama’ Kesha Morse” from “The Federation of Black Cowboys” series for the Village Voice, 2016.

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Courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Deana Lawson, “Cowboys,” 2014.

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Ron Tarver, “Concrete Canyon,” Harlem, 1993.

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Brad Trent, “Arthur ‘J.R. Fulmore” from “The Federation of Black Cowboys” series for the Village Voice, 2016.

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Ron Tarver, “The Basketball Game,” 1993.

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Ron Tarver, “Legends,” 1993.

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Brad Trent, “Ellis ‘Mountain Man’ Harris” from “The Federation of Black Cowboys” series for the Village Voice, 2016.

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Kahlil Joseph, still from Wildcat, 2013.