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New photography exhibit captures the heavenliness of Black bodies

Mark Khan, a local Twin Cities artist, is bringing Black representation into angelic spaces with his first solo photography exhibit “Forget Me Not” premiering at Coffman Memorial Union on Feb. 3.
Image by Emily Urfer
Photographer Mark Khan poses for a portrait in front of Coffman Memorial Union on Sunday, Jan. 23. Khan’s photo exhibit, which emphasizes placing Black bodies in celestial spaces, will be open in Coffman Memorial Union from Feb. 3 through March 20.

For Mark Khan, no artistic hurdle is too high to jump.

The local fashion designer, production company creative director and photographer has his first solo photography exhibition “Forget Me Not” opening at Coffman Memorial Union.

Opening on Feb. 3 and running through March 20, “Forget Me Not” will be located on the first floor in the Coffman Art Gallery space. The opening reception for the exhibit will run from 6-8 p.m. on Feb. 3, and will include an artist Q&A with Khan, live music and refreshments for visitors.

The photo series emphasizes placing Black bodies in celestial spaces, spaces that they haven’t been seen in historically.

Khan explained that the exhibit’s theme came from a combination of two elements: the lack of information and voice given to Black people about their ancestral pasts, and the lack of Black faces and bodies in paintings of depictions of heaven and the afterlife. Because Black voices and stories have continually been muted throughout history, Khan amplifies them in his upcoming exhibit.

“If we can’t see ourselves in history, how can we see ourselves in heaven?” Khan said. “The exhibit really shows these Black faces in a heavenly manner, and then a heavenly manner is created by our own definition.”

Khan is a University of Minnesota alum, graduating in 2020 with a degree in business marketing education. Coming in his first year, he had no experience with photography and had no idea of the doors that would be opened after purchasing his first Canon A-1 film camera.

By learning to shoot, Khan met local creatives who became some of his close friends and colleagues. The more photoshoots he was a part of, the more he learned about his camera and about the photography community that exists in the Twin Cities.

Through the University, Khan met Foluso Famuyide Jr., Paul Akama and Taoheed Bayo, three of the models pictured in his upcoming “Forget Me Not” exhibition, and three people who were essential in his artistic development. Khan explained that all of their photography and modelling skills grew as they learned how to perfect their poses and articulate the settings on their cameras together.

Khan, Famuyide, Akama and Bayo all met in the Black Student Union at the University. The group met weekly in Coffman Memorial Union and now, nearly four years later, Khan’s exhibit featuring his three friends will be on display in the very same building.

“The U is just really the epicenter for where this all happened,” Khan said. “The main place where we used to meet up was Coffman Memorial Union. So, now it’s crazy that our work is going to be shown in Coffman and these three guys, like Foluso, Taoheed and Paul, were those instrumental parts to the whole journey of becoming a photographer.”

Marissa Munley, one of the event planners and gallery managers for the University, is one of the two curators behind Khan’s exhibition.

“If you’re looking for a place to connect with others, and also just engage with some really cool art on campus, it’s really the place to be,” she said.

After having Khan be a part of a photography group show at one of Coffman’s galleries in the past, she said that his new work has shone a light on his talent and creativity with not only his photos, but with the exhibition itself.

“His work is really, really beautiful. You can tell the composition was laid out with such a creative mind and it was just very visually stunning to me,” she said. “For the exhibition, he really took it into his own hands, which is awesome, because I think that really helps showcase the passion that an artist can put into their work.”

Bayo, one of Khan’s closest friends and a featured model in “Forget Me Not,” graduated alongside Khan in 2020. Since they met, Bayo has been creating with photography and directorive modeling since early 2018, when the two first met.

“We wanted to create stuff that we were curious about, we wanted to tell stories,” Bayo said. “So, we became friends off of that. Sitting down and coming up with ideas to shoot, like concepts to work on together.”

As the initial ideas of “Forget Me Not” began to be thrown around in early 2021, Bayo saw the founding borders of the project come to light, firsthand.

“Mark has always been working on more than one thing at the same time. Photography, design, starting a brand,” Bayo said. “For me, it’s a privilege to see him capturing Black people being Black because that’s what we are.”

Bayo explained that Khan had full artistic control over the project, and watching him bring it to life has been a worthwhile experience in itself.

“He’s always been simultaneously working on his brand and working on his photography together, so it’s good to see him getting recognition for each one,” Bayo said with a smile. “He’s a testament for wanting to do everything you want to do because he’s doing literally everything that he wants to do.”

As the exhibition’s opening night creeps closer, the reality of having his first solo exhibition is beginning to settle in for Kahn, and like he is with all of his projects, the creative feels that he has plenty of room to grow.

“I’m still getting used to it,” he said. “I always feel like there’s more to learn.”

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