Artist Thomas Evans
sought to find the answer through a combination of photography, DNA testing and African art.
Inspired by a 2014 trip to Tanzania, Evans decided to get his DNA tested to trace his heritage. "It was the first time in my life being in a place where everybody looked exactly like me," he told CNN. "I was inspired to do a DNA test on myself to figure out lineage."
"When I returned to the US, I motivated others to have their DNA tested," he explains. "This was right at the time when I met Paul Hamilton."
Hamilton has been collecting African art for decades and Evans decided to create a project based around his extensive collection.
"The art he has inspired us to create the project," Evans continues. "I had an idea of taking photographs of local African Americans with the artifacts, as well as conducting DNA testing on the models so that we would be able to link the item back to the models heritage."
The result is 'They Still Live,'
a striking photography exhibition and project created by Evans and Tya Anthony to encourage people, particularly African Americans to discover and question who they are.
"The project tackles what it means to be black, white, mixed, European, Native American, or other," explains Evans.
"We wanted people be comfortable asking how unique they are compared to their neighbors."
For Anthony the project strikes a particularly timely chord given the current racial tension in the US. "Defining identity for African Americans is crucial in the current climate of our country and abroad," she says.
"When one can comprehend where they started from, inevitably one will be equipped with the tools and knowledge to succeed further in life."
Response to the exhibition has been overwhelmingly positive, Evans and Anthony hope to keep the project alive by recreating it in other cities.
"The best part about the exhibit is that it sparks a conversation about families, race, and culture," says Evans. "Everybody that talked about the project had a story about their own heritage. This project allows people to open up to others and share personal information you wouldn't normally hear in a conversation."