Posing Beauty in African American Culture

Lauren Kelley, Pickin’, 2007, color-coupler print

Text: Lauren Kelley, Pickin’, 2007, color-coupler print

Posing Beauty in African American Culture

Curated by Dr. Deborah Willis
October 6, 2017 – March 4, 2018

Posing Beauty in African American Culture, an exhibition opening October 6, 2017 at Mobile Museum of Art, explores the understanding of how African and African American beauty has 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 such as music and the Internet.

The exhibition, hailed by The New York Times as “a monumental contribution to contemporary American culture by presenting a definitive history of black beauty,” was curated by Dr. Deborah Willis and organized by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions (CATE). Through the exhibition, Willis challenges contemporary understandings of beauty by framing notions of aesthetics, race, class, and gender within art, popular culture, and politics.

The exhibition is presented in a chronological format, tracing images of African Americans from the 19th century to the present day, demonstrating changing concepts of beauty, identity, and culture. The exhibition’s didactic texts also invite viewers to consider three concepts underlying the exhibition’s chronology: the first, “Constructing a Pose,” addresses the relationship between history and contemporary, self-representation and imposed representation, and subject and photographer; secondly, “Body and Image,” which questions the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been constructed and framed through the body; and third, “Modeling Beauty & Beauty Contests,” which 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.

Artists in the exhibition include, among others, Carrie Mae Weems, Gordon Parks, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Sheila Pree Bright, Leonard Freed, Renee Cox, Anthony Barboza, Bruce Davidson, Mickalene Thomas, and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Posing Beauty in African American Culture is toured by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, and was organized by the Department of Photography & Imaging at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, and curated by Deborah Willis, University Professor and Chair of the Department.

Posing Beauty in African American Culture is supported by The J.L. Bedsole Foundation with additional support from Mobile City Council Members Levon C. Manzie (District 2), Bess Rich (District 6), C.J. Small (District 3), John C. Williams (District 4), and Fredrick D. Richardson, Jr. (District 1).