Outriders: Legacy of the Black Cowboy at Harwood Museum of Art in Taos normalizes the Black cowboy past and present.
Outriders: Legacy of the Black Cowboy
October 15, 2022–May 7, 2023
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos
There’s nothing romantic, whimsical, or tropey about Outriders: Legacy of the Black Cowboy, a Harwood Museum of Art exhibition that displays Black men, women, and children during the “golden age of the cowboy” and in modern times. Instead, the show recasts the Black cowboy as existing and thriving in a cultural space that has been twisted, manipulated, and co-opted by white culture.
The show begins with archival photos of Black folks in the American West frontier—according to an exhibition statement, between 1866 and 1895, approximately one in four cowboys was Black—and includes Jesse Stahl, “Stagecoach” Mary Fields, and Nat Love (AKA Deadwood Dick). Erwin E. Smith’s 1908 photo of a cowboy lighting a cigarette, with billowing smoke reminiscent of a brush fire, looks timeless.
The contemporary portion of the show includes eight artists with a connection to Black cowboy life and reinserts Black identity, so often invisible, into Western narratives. A majority of these works are documentary photographs. One wall displays images by Kennedi Carter, whose Ridin’ Sucka Free series (2019-20) documents Black cowboys in order to reverse whitewashed histories. Ivan B. McClellan presents a stirring portrait of a Black cowgirl and an action shot of an all-Black rodeo in Okmulgee, Oklahoma (n.d.).
Meanwhile, Alexander Harrison’s painting Beyond the Horizon (2021) is a scorcher. A crouched Black cowboy holds a smoking revolver while blood drips from the figure’s free hand. In the background, a half-dozen white-hooded and -robed figures march from a shiny steepled church. Here, we’re reminded that the Black cowboy—and Black people—face more than cultural oppression.
The artworks in Outriders often feel like the everyday and commonplace, but in the best ways. Rather than mythologizing this population, the exhibition helps remove the “sub” from this so-called subculture.