This week in Black Art and Culture: Black History Exhibitions, Celia Cruz Coins and QC Holdings Sells to HYBE

2/11/2020 – Crafting Freedom: The Life and Legacy of Free Black Potter Thomas W. Commeraw is presented by the New York Historical Society. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam presents an exhibition titled Slavery in New York, Ten True Tales of Slavery in Dutch Colonial America. Statement Films, a startup in the entertainment industry, has announced that it has acquired an initial $750,000 in investment for African women creatives. The United States Mint dedicates a quarter to Celia Cruz. HYBE’S American subsidiary acquires the Atlanta hip-hop label Quality Control. Read more in This Week in Black Art and Culture.


The New York Historical Society will exhibit Crafting Freedom: The Life and Legacy of Free Black Potter Thomas W. Commeraw until this May. Thomas W. Commeraw is the first exhibition to offer long-overdue recognition to Thomas W. Commeraw, a successful African American artisan who was long believed to be white. Commeraw rose to fame as a free Black entrepreneur, owning and managing a profitable pottery in the city after having been a slave. Over two decades, he accumulated property, engaged in discussions over state and national politics, and participated in New York City’s free Black community. 

The exhibition, on view from Jan. 27 to May 28, 2023, explores Commeraw’s multifaceted history as a craftsman, business owner, family man, and citizen through approximately 40 pieces of stoneware produced by Commeraw and his competitors between the late 1790s and 1819, in the most comprehensive presentation of his work to date. Alongside these artifacts are the key sources that allowed historians to rebuild the arc of his professional career and personal life, providing a greater knowledge of free Black society in New York in the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War.

The New York City directories first show Thomas Commeraw working as a potter in 1795, residing at Pot Baker’s Hill in the region of today’s City Hall. His jugs and crocks were shipped to ports around the Eastern seaboard and as far as Guyana and Norway. Most of the surviving Commeraw pieces show his name and the site of his pottery at Corlears Hook in Manhattan. In addition to demonstrating pleasure in his work, Commeraw’s visible branding helped him attract and keep customers.

The final chapter in Commeraw’s biography includes his campaign to facilitate the departure of Black settlers to Sierra Leone, as the chance of full citizenship for Black New Yorkers receded. Commeraw went there with his extended family on the first American Colonization Society expedition in 1820. He arrived full of excitement and ambitions to build a Black republic; instead, he encountered unfathomable suffering and sorrow. 

What began as a quest for political rights ended as a fight for existence. Many of the settlers perished of malaria, including Commeraw’s wife and niece. He returned to the United States in 1822 and died in Baltimore the following year. The show concludes with a postscript describing how future generations of the Commeraw family would continue the potter’s business zeal and political involvement. 

Sana Musasama, a ceramic artist and activist from Queens, also has developed a new piece that reflects on Commeraw’s life as a potter in New York, his transatlantic adventure two centuries ago, and her own artistic path. Passages will be displayed in New-York Historical’s grand foyer, the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Gallery, to introduce the show and urge people to examine how Commeraw’s tale continues to reverberate today. This April 10, historian Leslie Harris is scheduled to converse with David M. Rubenstein on the specter of slavery and the history of African Americans in New York City from the early days of New Amsterdam until the Civil War. Throughout the exhibition’s duration, guided tours may be arranged.


Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum of art and history, today announces its Slavery exhibition will go on display at United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in New York. Originally conceived and mounted in Amsterdam in 2021, an adapted version of the exhibition will open to the public in the Visitors’ Lobby of the U.N. headquarters from Feb. 27-March 30, 2023. It is hosted by the United Nations as part of the United Nations Outreach Program on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery. 

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Dutch Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Dutch diplomatic mission to the United States. The exhibition will include a lecture program on March 29 and 30 with speakers from the U.S., the Caribbean and Europe, coming together to reflect on and explore the link between museums, the colonial past, society and the future. The exhibition also will be made accessible in modified form for display until Dec. 31, 2024 at other U.N. headquarters worldwide. 

In Ten True Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery, the Rijksmuseum focuses on slavery in the Dutch colonial era, from the 17th to the 19th century in Brazil, Suriname, the Caribbean, South Africa, Asia, and the Netherlands itself. It includes 10 personal accounts of people who were enslaved, people who benefited from the institution of slavery, and people who spoke out against it. During the colonial period (1600-1900), areas of the Americas, Africa, and Asia were colonized or used as trade stations by the Europeans. 

From Africa and Asia, millions of women, men and children were enslaved and transported to faraway locations. They, their children, and subsequent generations were subjected to a system of forced labor that dehumanized, objectified, and frequently subjected them to violence based on their race or religion. The legalized institution of colonial slavery converted human beings to marketable property. This kind of slavery was abolished globally in the 19th century. 

Since then, successive U.N. declarations have classified slavery as a crime against humanity. In New York, the 10 stories that comprised the original Slavery show will be exhibited around a single object: a “tronco” (from the Portuguese for “tree trunk”) made of wood. Multiple slaves would be compelled to have their ankles clamped in the holes in order to restrain them and prevent them from escaping and administer physical punishment. 

This object represents the oppression of more than one million individuals who were brought to the United States from throughout the world and compelled to labor on plantations, as artisans, in mines, or on military missions. The Outreach Program on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery was established in 2007 with the adoption of United Nations General Assembly resolution 62/122. The program raises awareness of the history of the transatlantic slave trade, its impact on the modern world, and its legacies, including racism and prejudice.


Statement Films—a women-led, data-driven entertainment startup—has announced that it has secured an initial $750 million in funding from an array of titans across Hollywood, sports and business, including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson. Statement Films, which was founded by writer, producer and political analyst Areej Noor, discovers, develops, and presents a pipeline of African-women-led intellectual property to worldwide buyers, bridging the gap between African and diaspora women filmmakers and the global market. The stories of powerful women from around the world were abundant in Noor’s childhood, inspiring her to build an inclusive global community of influential African women creatives.

It Illustrates the expanding collaboration and guardianship between Africans and African Americans. Noor, a Somali-American, was born in Washington, D.C. to a notable global fighter for women’s rights who later became a political strategist. Noor’s youth was filled with tales of strong women from over the globe, which inspired her to create an inclusive worldwide network of outstanding African women creatives.

Areej Noor notes, “I grew up exposed to incredibly creative and powerful stories of African women, but I felt they were still underserved by Western media and the entertainment elite—that is why I founded Statement Films,” said Noor. “Having the support of Hollywood, sports, and business titans gives us the momentum to establish new and equitable pathways for the explosive female talent coming from the continent.”

LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Tony-nominated actor, producer, and director said, “As a female creative, this is something I am particularly passionate about, and I look forward to seeing the opportunities and progress that will unfold for African women through the incredible work of Areej and her team at Statement Films.” With the recent investment, Statement Films is scaling the current offering into a media and insights business that increases the visibility of the African Creative Class while its production arm remains focused on building a pipeline for female filmmakers on the continent and in the diaspora.


By Lionel Decoster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The U.S. Mint announced that Cuban American singer Celia Cruz will be the first Latina featured in the American Women Quarters Program. With the United States Mint honoring Cruz, she becomes the first Afro-Latina to be featured on the currency.

In the 1970s, Cruz emerged as a leading force in salsa music and joined Fania All Stars alongside Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colón, Tito Puente, and other icons of the genre, a New York City and worldwide cultural phenomenon. She later experimented with various tropical styles, including merengue and reggaetón. The songs La Vida Es Un Carnaval, La Negra Tiene Tumbao and Qumbara featuring Johnny Pacheco are among her most iconic hits. She passed away in 2003 at age 77. The late Cuban American legend released over 80 albums, garnered 23 gold records, received seven Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, (which she received posthumously in 2016) and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by the president.

In collaboration with Archetype-IO, the estate of the salsa legend released her first NFT collection at Art Basel 2022. In 2016, Telemundo’s Celia, an 80-part series on her life, became available to stream on Netflix.

Midway through 2023, the designs for the 2024 American Women Quarters will be published.

Cruz is among five women featured in the American Women Quarters Program in 2024. The program, which began in 2022 and will continue through 2025, honors the achievements and services of American women. Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to serve in Congress; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War physician and suffragist; Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and attorney; and Zitkala-a, a voting rights activist from the Yankton Sioux Nation, are also being honored. This year celebrates Bessie Colemen, Edith Kanaka’ole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jovita Idar and Maria Tallchief.

Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said, “All of the women being recognized have led extraordinary, multifaceted lives and have had a major effect on our nation in their own distinct ways.

“The women pioneered change during their lifetimes, not yielding to the status quo imparted during their lives. By honoring these pioneering women, the Mint continues to connect America through coins which are like small works of art in your pocket.”


South Korean music titan HYBE Corporation has bought QC Media Holdings, the Atlanta-based parent company of influential hip-hop label Quality Control Music, home to Migos, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby.

According to Variety, the deal is valued at about $300 million, with HYBE paying QC’s founders Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “P” Thomas a purchase price of $250 million and issuing $50 million in new stock. “Based on hip-hop, QC has been making a strong presence in the American music scene,” HYBE CEO Jiwon Park said. “With our shared vision, I have high hopes in what we can operate and achieve together.”

HYBE is an international music talent agency, record label, promoter, event management, and production company founded in 2005 and was known as Big Hit Entertainment until 2021. BTS, Tomorrow X Together, Newjeans, and Seventeen are affiliated with this company.

This is the first major acquisition made by HYBE America CEO Scooter Braun, giving the firm control of one of the fastest growing and most culturally significant independent labels in the United States. “P and I are ecstatic about this partnership with Scooter and HYBE and are confident they can get us to our global ambitions we’ve had in our scope since the beginning of the company as nothing means more than our artists impacting worldwide,” Lee added. “Over many years, Scooter and I have cultivated real trust and a common way of looking at the world and culture.”

Under the guidance of Braun, HYBE America will now administer the Quality Control label, with Thomas and Lee continuing in control. SB Projects (clients include Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Kid Laroi) and Big Machine Label Group (whose roster includes Tim McGraw, Thomas Rhett and Rascal Flatts) are also a part of HYBE America.

Braun, an American record executive and talent manager, led the sale of Quality Control to HYBE America. Braun joined HYBE, originally Big Hit Entertainment, in 2021 after selling Ithaca Holdings to the South Korean-born firm for $1.05 billion. Ithaca, which acquired Big Machine Label Group, is notable for selling the recorded music rights to the first six Taylor Swift albums to Shamrock Capital in 2020 for around $300 million.

Variety revealed less than a month ago that Braun is now the sole CEO of HYBE America, having previously shared the position with Big Hit veteran Lenzo Yoon.

You May Also Like