Photographer: Nicole Harrison



"Deriving its influence from Hip Hop culture – prison, gang, and street-cred – the body has become a space for black men to narrate their experiences and express their emotions. By doing so, they are establishing a voice and “talking back” to a society that often renders them invisible.”

 – Nicole Harrison


Fear Into Fire: Reclaiming Black Male Identity Through the Art of Tattooing is a research project and photographic exhibition that brings attention to the complex stories embedded in the symbolisms of black men’s body art. This project investigates through research, interviews and photography how black men, of the Hip Hop community, utilize tattooing as an art form that gives voice and recognition to their life experience(s). Fear Into Fire… argues that black men who mark their bodies are challenging western conventions regarding tattoos and who they are as black men. While exploring how inscribing the body becomes an opportunity for black men to archive memories, define their identities, tell their stories, express their emotions and “talk back” to a society that often renders them “invisible.” 

Through these analyses, Fear Into Fire… offers a peek into the misunderstood and neglected world of black men who tattoo their bodies to convey deep messages.  Historically, this is nothing new, for people of African descent have a tradition of using art and cultural expressions to seek, restore and resist social constructs regarding black life and identity.  However, this direct use of the body is a new form that has come to represent a new generation in Hip Hop. 

My interest in this topic first developed in 2009 while enrolled as a grad student at New York University. In a course titled “Black Body and the Lens,” I explored a range of ideas and methods used to address the body in photography, print, film and exhibition spaces.  Throughout this learning experience I questioned and became most concerned with how the display of the black body affects how we see and interpret the world.  As the historical gaze has overwhelmingly determined the visual construction of the black body in contemporary society...

Columbia College Chicago

Less than a year after receiving a masters degree in Africana Studies from New York University Nicole curatored her very first exhibition that would serve as an extension of her thesis research also titled Fear Into Fire... Columbia College faculty first approached her with the opportunity to explore her work further while she was in the finial stages of thesis writing and weeks away from graduating.

The show opened on January 24, 2011 and closed on March 3, 2011. It was on display at the Arcade Gallery and received tons of support and sponsoring from the Humanities department, Department of Exhibition & Public Spaces and the African American Affairs Department.

Kalamazoo College

Following the debut of the Fear Into Fire exhibit and dialogue around black men, narrative and tattooing, Nicole was presented with another opportunity to bring the show to Kalamazoo, Michigan. While in Kalamazoo the show would be a part of a city art fare at the Epic center. It would later move from the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo where it was on display at Kalamazoo College for the month of November of 2012.

In bringing the exhibit to Kalamazoo, Nicole worked with the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leaderhip of Kalamazoo College and the Black Arts & Culture Department .