Black Virgin Mary portrays a young man with his green velvet durag undone, framing his face like a veil. The closely cropped image draws our attention to the subject’s weary expression and the rich, glimmering texture of his headwear. Commercialized in the 1970s as a beauty implement to hold wavy hairstyles in place, durags have become culturally specific fashion statements. Since the 1990s, celebrities such as LeBron James, Jay-Z, and Rihanna have helped popularize them.
This image is part of Adrian Octavius Walker’s series We Matter, which explores male beauty traditions, how they function as signs of kinship, and how they are perceived outside of their communities. In this photograph, the sitter’s direct gaze and the reference to the Virgin Mary in the title conjure ideas of beauty and martyrdom while foregrounding the subject’s vulnerability.