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Sierra Elise Driver – Black Joy


Black Joy is a photographic installation that visualizes my research effort to locate black joy in public photo archives. Those include, among others, the National Archives, the New York Public Library, and the Tennessee State Library & Archives.

A simple search for ‘black joy’ in most photo archives produces zero results. A simple search for ‘african american joy’ in most photo archives produces zero results. A simple search for ‘african american’ in most photo archives produces hundreds to thousands of results, majority of which relate to historical mistreatment of blacks in the United States. The disproportionate number of these photos compared to a scarcity of black joy in public photo archives suggests an institutional narrative, that black life in America is synonymous with hardship and struggle.

Black Joy is a curated collection of photographic prints that I labeled as black joy, a search term absent from archives. With my installation, I advocate for an all-encompassing visual narrative of the African American experience. My definition of black joy includes the intimate, familiar, mundane moments of serendipity and nonchalance, happiness, beauty, and celebration found in black daily life.


Elise Driver is a Nashville native artist, whose artistic practice focuses on digital photography, visual media production, and design. Art classes at Vanderbilt introduced her to her preferred medium, photography, as well as video art, drawing, and installation. All studio courses fostered Driver’s development as a visual artist, including an exploration of daily life, imagination, fashion, and radical happiness. Her recent works, Black Joy and Disco Debutante draw inspiration from multiple photographic archives. Black Joy explores how photographic archives narrate the African American experience. Disco Debutante, inspired by fashion archival imagery, is a constructed image of a whimsical performance shot in studio lighting to evoke a dreamlike, magical aura. Driver volunteers as an instructor at a community art class at Room In The Inn (RITI). This weekly class has been her most rewarding experience because of the authentic relationships built within the RITI community. Driver values art advocacy, health and wellness, and empowering individuals within the homeless community.

Elise is the recipient of the 2022 Margare Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Merit Award.