Since the beginning of his career, Dawoud Bey (American, born 1953) has used his camera to represent 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 representing black subjects and African-American history in a manner that is at once direct and poetic, immediate and symbolic. Bey is perhaps best known as a portraitist, and 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. Lately, Bey has turned to landscapes: Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2018) 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.
The exhibition is co-organized with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Major support for Dawoud Bey: An American Project is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Randi and Bob Fisher.
Generous support is provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and Diana and Steve Strandberg.
Meaningful support is provided by The Black Dog Private Foundation, Wayee Chu and Ethan Beard, and Sarah Wigglesworth and Asiff Hirji.
Header image: Dawoud Bey, Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, Birmingham, AL, from The Birmingham Project, 2012; Rennie Collection, Vancouver; © Dawoud Bey