By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Art and artists have always worked to prod the nation’s collective conscience, urging people to open emotional doors to uncomfortable places.

“I remember seeing on the news,” recalls Dallas artist and photographer Yesi Fortuna of the social justice protests that swept the nation last year. “People were outraged. They were hurt.”

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So it was in this summer of sorrow, that Fortuna, Fort Lion Studio, stepped up to soothe.

“I talked to my team members and said, ‘what if we open our doors and said, please, let me gift you some of my time and space’, and that’s how this was born.”

This is ‘Black Is Beautiful’. Again.

In a nod to the 1960s racial awareness rallying cry, Fortuna’s art installation now open at the Dallas Galleria is intended to be reminder.

Black Is Beautiful exhibit (CBS 11)

“It truly is just a reminder that Black is Beautiful,” shares Fortuna. “It’s not that Black is Beautiful now, or it wasn’t before, or it won’t be later. It’s just a healthy reminder that it is a life that’s worth protecting because it’s beautiful. We don’t trample things that we believe are beautiful.”

Fortuna admits that it would be like asking a parent to pick a more loved child to decide on a favorite among the black and white photographs. The stories behind them, all memorable.

“There was a moment where there was a daughter and father together, and the little girl reaches over and hugs her father and truly brings him in close and it was very emotional to be able to document that and offer that to them.”

Fortuna says it was also special to be able to see families document their special bonds.

“I have seen brothers being together and they are so beautiful! And one day they will grow up to be black men and I hope people still see them as those beautiful young men, young boys in that image when they’re older,” the memory even now, filling Fortuna’s eyes with tears.

The collection of black and white photos of everyday people collectively paint a portrait of resilience and pride.

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“This is the first thing I saw on my way there, and I was in shock!” exclaims Breanna Travis with obvious delight. “Wow! it’s so beautiful.”

Travis says she was visiting Galleria Dallas just to run an errand, but the art installation made her stop to both reflect and celebrate.

“All the things that we have gone through as a people. This is something that you’re going to walk by and say ‘okay, I see them.’ That’s why it’s important for people to see us.”

And Travis says she can’t wait to share.

“It’s going on my phone, it’s going on Instagram, I am going to tell people to come see it. Come take a picture. I’m impressed. It’s a great day.”

Fortuna insists that the display is not meant to be controversial as the words were in the 1960s, but rather, she says the display is meant to be a conversation starter, even if those conversations prompt inward retrospect of why they possibly offend.

“There’s a little bit of a heartache in this, that we’re still having to have this conversation,” says Fortuna, who stresses that it’s so important in those conversations, to listen. “I’m not here to change people’s minds. It’s so that I could offer them space for them to feel heard and feel like they can use their voice. I would offer that same for anyone who thinks it’s a divisive thing.”

The goal, she says, is to unite, to touch.

“The first image I took, was a friend of mine,” shares Fortuna. “I snapped the photo. I couldn’t help but to cry. I don’t know why. I guess the fact that I’m able to do this and be alive during this time and offer my skills in a way that will benefit my community. That is something that will stay with me forever.”

The Black is Beautiful exhibit can be found on the lower level of Galleria Dallas near Macy’s through February 28.

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