Exhibits Posing


Curated by Deborah Willis
January 13 – February 11, 2017

Posing Beauty in African American Culture explores the contested ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented in historical and contemporary contexts through a diverse range of media including photography, film, video, fashion, advertising, and other forms of popular culture. Throughout the Western history of art and image-making, the relationship between beauty and art has become increasingly complex within contemporary art and popular culture. The first of three thematic sections, “Constructing a Pose,” considers the interplay between the historical and the contemporary, between self-representation and imposed representation, and the relationship between subject and photographer. The second theme, “Body and Image,” questions the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been constructed and framed through the body. The last section, “Modeling Beauty & Beauty Contests,” invites us to reflect upon the ambiguities of beauty, its impact on mass culture and individuals, and how the display of beauty affects the ways in which we see and interpret the world and ourselves. Posing Beauty in African American Culture challenges contemporary understandings of beauty by framing notions of aesthetics, race, class, and gender within art, popular culture, and politics.

The esteemed roster of artists in this exhibition include, among others, Carrie Mae Weems, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Eve Arnold, Gordon Parks, Sheila Pree Bright, Leonard Freed, Renee Cox, Anthony Barboza, Edward Curtis, Hank Willis Thomas, Bruce Davidson, Mickalene Thomas, Jamel Shabazz, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Leonard Freed

1lHarlem Fashion Show, Harlem 1963

Anthony Barboza

1vPat Evans, 1970s

Omar Victor Diop

1gSelf Portrait as ‘Frédérick Douglass’ from the Diaspora series, 2014

Mickalene Thomas

1wSista Sista Lady Blue, 2007

Jamel Shabazz

1zRude Boy from Back in the Days, 1980

Lauren Kelley

1mPickin’, 2007

Carrie Mae Weems

1nUntitled (Man and Mirror) from the ‘Kitchen Table’ series, 1990


1uPosing Beauty, 2009


1aBaby Back, from ‘American Family’, 2001


1tBody Builder on Venice Beach, California, 1964


auStreet photographer, New York (1935-36)

Ernest C. Withers

1dIsaac Hayes in His Office at Stax Records, Memphis, Tennessee, 1970s

Edward Curtis

1fA Desert Queen, 1898

Sheila Pree Bright

1oFrom the ‘Plastic Bodies’ Series, 2005


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