ArtAtlantaBlack FuturesBreaking Culture

Your Timely & Adorable Reminder That Black History Should Be Honored Year Round

March 9, 2022

On the last day of Black History Month, Atlanta-based artist and photographer Melissa Alexander shared her latest project, an adorable celebration called Phyllis Iller’s Black History Babies. 

“The idea was simple,” Alexander shared on her website along with the collection. “If a child could recite a fact or two about a figure from Black History they’d receive a free portrait.” The result was pretty impressive: dressed as their historical figures of choice, the children represented familiar faces including Thurgood Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Nina Simone. But the collection also features odes to cowboy Nat Love, race car driver Wendell Scott, and the incomparable Flo-Jo.

“Black children are special, not least because they’ll one day grow into Black adults in a world where their lives aren’t celebrated,”

Alexander tells AFROPUNK. “I figured our babies – because they ARE all of ours – should be given their flowers early. If we shower them with love, they will bloom into adults whose Blackness is rooted in rich soil.”

Affectionately known to Atlanta’s artistic community as Phyllis Iller, Alexander’s work often centers on “the inter-relational intimacy that exists within the Black American community.” As a result of this singular focus, her portfolio includes colorful portraits of families and familiar faces. But her most frequent subjects are women, as her website notes she’s currently working on “projects related to the evolution of the Black Girl and the Black woman.”

The idea for this project was given to her by her daughter’s father in 2021, but Alexander says she delayed it until this year to make sure she could give Black History Babies all of the attention needed to be properly executed. Ahead of the photo session, she asked each parent to help their child think outside of the traditional Black History Box.

“I was incredibly pleased that each family dug deep into the bag of Black Excellence,” Alexander says. “Basquiat was represented, Nina Simone was represented, Flo Jo was represented, and more. I mean, I found out the first Black stock car racer was named Wendell Scott by a 2-year-old. I found out that Boogaloo Shrimp did the Moonwalk before Michael Jackson from a 9-year-old.”The 9-year-old in question, a b-girl in training herself, went above and beyond to prepare for her close-up. “From the beginning, Trulee was extremely committed to bringing Boogaloo Shrimp to life,” Alexander wrote in an Instagram post. “She watched his documentary and was ready to spit all the facts!”

To keep the celebration of Black Excellence going, Alexander linked each portrait to a Wikipedia page sharing additional info about the showcased historical figures. 

Click here to check out all of Phyllis Iller’s Black History Babies.