On view: November 7, 2020–Spring 2021
Since the beginning of his career, Dawoud Bey (American, born 1953) has used his camera to depict communities and histories that have largely remained underrepresented or even unseen. This full-scale retrospective highlights the artist’s commitment over the course of his four-decade career to portraying the Black subject and African American history in a manner that is at once direct and poetic, immediate and symbolic. The exhibition includes his tender and perceptive early portraits of Harlem residents, large-scale color Polaroids, and a series of collaborative word and image portraits of high school students, among others.
More recent projects have taken a historical turn: The Birmingham Project (2012) commemorates the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in a series of deeply affective portrait diptychs. Recently, Bey has turned to landscapes: Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2017) depicts, in deep shades of black and gray, the imagined experience of a fugitive slave moving along the Underground Railroad, marking a formal departure from the artist’s earlier work but considering the same existential questions about race, history, and the possibility of bearing witness through contemporary photography.
With a powerful juxtaposition of portraiture and landscape photography, this book explores Dawoud Bey’s vivid evocations of race, history, time, and place. Available for purchase at the Museum Shop and at museumshop.high.org.