Posts Tagged ‘racism

22
May
21

Exhibition: ‘Zanele Muholi’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 11th November 2020 – 31st May 2021

Curators: Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator and Sarah Allen, Assistant Curator with Kerryn Greenberg, Head of International Collection Exhibitions, Tate and formerly Curator, Tate Modern.

 

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photograph of Zanele Muholi Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020
Photo © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Unclassified fabulousness

There are so many words that you can say about an artist and their work. So many unnecessary words. All you have to do is look at the work. Does it speak to you? does it make you feel, does it empower you?

For me, artists either have it or they don’t… and in this case, visual activist Zanele Muholi possesses it by the bucketful. Panache, flair, downright unclassified fabulousness, call it what you want. They just have it.

They are powerful, they are strong, they are courageous, they tell great stories, they make you question history, they make you analyse what you think you know, they challenge your memories, they make you feel something about their participants, they make you want to fight for LGBTQIA+ social rights. They make you want to stand up and fight for equality and freedom for everyone. No person is an island, alone by themselves; we should all be equal under this cosmic sky.

The older I get the less tolerant I get of the stupidity of the human race and its non-evolution, in terms of spirit of self. When is the human race going to just grow up! Ditch the patriarchy, misogyny, colonialism, racial and socio-economic oppression. Appreciate difference, value the quality of every human being, debunk the dogma of religion, curtail the power of corporations and live in harmony with the earth. Not f…ing much to ask is it, after all these thousands of years.

I won’t live to see it, but with artists like Muholi, there is hope for humanity yet. Unclassifiable. Beautiful. Hail the Dark Lioness – all power to them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Tate Modern presents the first major mid-career survey of visual activist Zanele Muholi in the UK. Born in South Africa, Muholi came to prominence in the early 2000s with photographs that sought to envision black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex lives beyond deviance or victimhood.

 

 

“My mission is to re-write a Black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond.”

“In my world, every human is beautiful.”

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Zanele Muholi

 

“Muholi prefers to be called an activist rather than an artist. Art, for them, is a means to an end, a tool to convey messages about social empowerment and visibility. “Zanele Muholi’s visual activism is not an occupation. It’s a lifestyle,” Kerryn Greenberg explains. “It’s something that occupies them day and night – whether they receive a call from someone in the community needing money to pay for a hospital appointment, or consoling those who’ve lost someone close to them in an act of violence, or giving some kind of public address at a wedding or a funeral. It’s about being a very active member of the community, and a public voice within that community.”

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Maisie Skidmore. “Yes, but why? Zane Muholi,” on the ‘We Present’ website [Online] Cited 11 April 2021

 

“The connection that Muholi has with their participants (which they are eager to distinguish from the word “subject,” which implies a distanced gaze) translates to the viewer, who, in looking at these images, is immediately welcomed into a space of understanding and empathy. Muholi also often highlights the voices of the participants in their shows, books and events. …

The political agenda of the 260 photographs on display – which critique centuries of anti-Black sentiment, oppression and erasure – echoes the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial justice reckoning it has inspired worldwide. “Muholi’s work takes on an enormous importance within the context of Black Lives Matter because of its potential to educate audiences and promote mutual understanding,” said Sarah Allen. Each piece makes a clear visual statement: not only that Black queer lives matter but also that Black queer lives are nuanced, cherished and deserve to be celebrated.”

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Cassidy George. “Zanele Muholi’s Photographs Celebrate Radical, Queer, Black Beauty,” on the ‘W Magazine’ website 11/03/2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

 

 

 

Zanele Muholi – ‘In My World, Every Human is Beautiful’ / Tate

Visual activist, Zanele Muholi, uses photography and film to document and explore issues of race and representation and to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa and beyond. Here they talk about how the power of images can show LGBTQIA+ people of South Africa, and QTIPOC people worldwide, that they are not alone. Watch as they introduce us to four key bodies of work and the ideas behind them.

 

 

 

Zanele Muholi: In Conversation with Lady Phyll / Artist’s Talk / Tate Exchange

Watch an in conversation between Muholi and Lady Phyll of UK Black Pride. Together, they discuss what difficult love looks like for QTIPOC communities in South Africa and Britain and the importance of chosen families.

This talk forms a part of From a Place of Love, a collaboration between Tate Exchange’s Love programme and UK Black Pride, whose theme for 2020 is home.

 

 

Born in 1972 and raised in Umlazi, a township on South Africa’s eastern coast, Muholi had a childhood shaped by the racial brutality of Apartheid – a white supremacist regime that systematically oppressed and displaced South Africa’s non white population for half a century. Muholi was an adolescent when Apartheid absolved and South Africa’s constitution was rewritten in 1996, with the intention of ushering a new era of equality. Even though South Africa’s constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, as a young queer person, Muholi was constantly reminded that the violent realities of gay life in South Africa did not align with this utopic vision of the future. Homophobia, queerphobia and transphobia remained rampant, and in South Africa, Black lesbians and transgender men are among the most at risk, and are often victims of heinous hate crimes, like “corrective” rape, abduction and murder. Drawing inspiration from the work of the American photographer Nan Goldin, whose early photographs documented queer culture and the HIV epidemic through intimate portraits of her family and friends, Muholi embarked on a mission to commemorate the battles and triumphs of her community with pictures.

Cassidy George. “Zanele Muholi’s Photographs Celebrate Radical, Queer, Black Beauty,” on the W Magazine website 11/03/2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

Zanele Muholi is a South African visual activist whose pronouns are they/them/theirs. Their work tells the stories of Black LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Agender, Asexual) lives in South Africa and beyond. Their photography raises awareness of injustices and aims to educate, while creating positive visual histories for under and mis-represented communities. Muholi also turns the camera on themself, making self-portraits that address race, history and representation. This exhibition charts Muholi’s emergence as an activist in the early 2000s to the present day.

During the 1990s, South Africa underwent major social and political change. Apartheid was officially abolished in 1994. This was a political and social system of racial segregation underpinned by white minority rule. Anyone who was not classified as white was actively oppressed by the regime. Apartheid continued the segregation that had begun under the Dutch and British colonial regimes in the late 19th century. The apartheid regime also upheld injustice and discrimination based on gender and sexuality. While the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, the LGBTQIA+ community remains a target for prejudice, hate crimes and violence.

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photographs of Room 1 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020 showing photographs from the series Only Half the Picture (2002-6)
Photos © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 1: Only Half The Picture

This room incudes work from Muholi’s first series Only Half the Picture (2002-6). It documents survivors of hate crimes living across South Africa and its townships. Under apartheid, townships were established as residential areas for those who had been evicted from places designated as ‘white only’. The people Muholi photographs – their participants – are presented with compassion, dignity and courage in the face of ongoing discrimination. The series also includes images of intimacy, expanding the narrative beyond victimhood. Muholi reveals the pain, love and defiance that exist within the Black LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa.

Exhibition room guide text

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Aftermath' 2004

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Aftermath
2004
From the series Only Half the Picture
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
600 x 395mm
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'ID Crisis' 2003

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
ID Crisis
2003
From the series Only Half the Picture
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
325 x 485mm
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

The exhibition opens with a group of deceptively gentle images. In the first, Aftermath (2004), a torso is cropped from waist to knees, hands modestly clasped in front of Jockey shorts, a huge scar running down the person’s right leg almost like a piece of body art. In another, Ordeal (2003), hands wring out a cloth in an enamel basin of water placed on a floor. A third image shows a cropped, seated figure, again waist to thighs, hands folded in their lap, plastic hospital ties around their wrists. These pictures have a softness and beauty which completely belies the fact that their subjects are all survivors of sexual violence and “corrective rape”.

As the caption to the last picture, Hate crime survivor I, Case number (2004) explains, “Corrective rape is a term used to describe a hate crime in which a person is raped because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The intended consequence of such acts is to enforce heterosexuality and gender conformity.” This horrific practice is by no means unique to South Africa, but the term seems to have originated there – feminist activist Bernedette Muthien used it during an interview with Human Rights Watch in 2001 – and its effects on the community resonate throughout this exhibition.

Anonymous. “Zanele Muholi, Tate Modern,” on the Something I’m Working On website Wednesday 30th December 2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photograph of Room 2 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020
Photo © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 2: Being

This room features work from Muholi’s series Being (2006 – ongoing). The portraits capture moments of intimacy between couples, as well as their daily life and routines. Muholi addresses the misconception that queer life is ‘unAfrican’, a falsehood emerging in part out of the belief that same-sex orientation was a colonial import to Africa. Each couple is shown in the private spaces they share. Muholi explains how ‘lovers and friends consented to participate in the project, willing to bare and express their love for each other.’

Commenting on this series they say, ‘my photography is never about lesbian nudity. It is about portraits of lesbians who happen to be in the nude.’ This series dismantles the white patriarchal gaze and rejects negative or heteronormative images, common in political and social systems that uphold heterosexuality as the norm or default sexual orientation.

Since slavery and colonialism, images of us African women have been used to reproduce heterosexuality and white patriarchy, and these systems of power have so organised our everyday lives that it is difficult to visualise ourselves as we actually are in our respective communities. Moreover, the images we see rely on binaries that were long prescribed for us (heterosexual / homosexual, male/female, African / unAfrican). From birth on, we are taught to internalise their existences, sometimes forgetting that if bodies are connected, connecting, the sensuousness goes beyond simplistic understandings of gender and sexuality.

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Exhibition room guide text

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Katlego Mashiloane and Nosipho Lavuta, Ext. 2, Lakeside, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Katlego Mashiloane and Nosipho Lavuta, Ext. 2, Lakeside, Johannesburg
2007
From the series Being (2006 – ongoing)
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Katlego Mashiloane and Nosipho Lavuta, Ext. 2, Lakeside, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Katlego Mashiloane and Nosipho Lavuta, Ext. 2, Lakeside, Johannesburg
2007
From the series Being (2006 – ongoing)
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Beloved V' 2005

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Beloved V
2005
From the series Being (2006 – ongoing)
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Busi Mdaki and Malesedi Nthute, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Busi Mdaki and Malesedi Nthute, Johannesburg
2007
From the series Being (2006 – ongoing)
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'TommyBoys' 2004

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
TommyBoys
2004
From the series Being (2006 – ongoing)
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

In “TommyBoys,” a colour photograph, two muscular figures in tracksuit pants sit on a tarmac. One, in a red T-shirt, sits with her hands folded against her chest, while next to her, the second uses her white vest to wipe something from her eyes. (“Tommy Boy” is a word used in South Africa, like “butch,” to refer to a masculine-presenting lesbian.)

Text from the New York Times website

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Busi Sigasa, Braamfontein, Johannesburg' 2006

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Busi Sigasa, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
2006
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photographs of Room 3 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020 showing in the bottom photograph the series Miss Lesbian I-VII, Amsterdam (2009)
Photos © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 3: Queering Public Space

Photographing Black LGBTQIA+ participants in public spaces is an important part of Muholi’s visual activism. This room contains portraits of transgender women, gay men and gender non-conforming people photographed in public places.

Several of the locations are important in the history of South Africa. Some images are taken at Constitutional Hill, the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. It is a key place in relation to the country’s progression towards democracy. Other participants are photographed on beaches. These were segregated during apartheid. They are therefore potent symbols of how racial segregation affected every aspect of life. Participants are often shown on Durban Beach, close to Muholi’s birthplace of Umlazi.

Muholi states that ‘we’re ‘queering’ the space in order for us to access the space. We transition within the space in order to make sure that the Black trans bodies are part of this as well. We owe it to ourselves.’ Muholi often chooses to photograph participants in colour, bringing the work closer to reality and rooting them in the present day.

Exhibition room guide text

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Miss D'vine II' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Miss D’vine II
2007
Lambda print
765 x 765 mm
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Miss Lesbian VII, Amsterdam' 2009

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Miss Lesbian VII, Amsterdam
2009
C-print
86.5 x 60.5cm
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

Tate Modern presents the first major UK survey of visual activist Zanele Muholi.

Zanele Muholi is one of the most acclaimed photographers working today, and their work has been exhibited all over the world. With over 260 photographs, this exhibition presents the full breadth of their career to date.

Muholi describes themself as a visual activist. From the early 2000s, they have documented and celebrated the lives of South Africa’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities.

In the early series Only Half the Picture, Muholi captures moments of love and intimacy as well as intense images alluding to traumatic events – despite the equality promised by South Africa’s 1996 constitution, its LGBTQIA+ community remains a target for violence and prejudice.

In Faces and Phases each participant looks directly at the camera, challenging the viewer to hold their gaze. These images and the accompanying testimonies form a growing archive of a community of people who are risking their lives by living authentically in the face of oppression and discrimination.

Other key series of works, include Brave Beauties, which celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, many of whom have won Miss Gay Beauty pageants, and Being, a series of tender images of couples which challenge stereotypes and taboos.

Muholi turns the camera on themself in the ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama – translated as ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’. These powerful and reflective images explore themes including labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics.​

Exhibition organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, Gropius Bau, Berlin and Bildmuseet at Umeå University.

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Tate Modern presents the first major UK survey of South African visual activist Zanele Muholi. Muholi (b. 1972) came to prominence in the early 2000s with photographs that told the stories of black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex lives in South Africa. Over 300 photographs are brought together to present the full breadth of Muholi’s career to date, from their very first body of work Only Half the Picture, to their on-going series Somnyama Ngonyama. These works challenge dominant ideologies and representations, presenting the participants in their photographs as fellow human beings bravely existing in the face of prejudice, intolerance and often violence.

During the 1990s, South Africa underwent major social and political changes. While the country’s 1996 post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, the LGBTQIA+ community remains a target for violence and prejudice to this day. In the early series Only Half the Picture Muholi aimed to depict the complexities of gender and sexuality for the individuals of the queer community. The collection includes moments of love and intimacy as well intense images alluding to traumatic events in the lives of the participants. Muholi also began an ongoing visual archive of portraits, Faces and Phases, which commemorates and celebrates black lesbians, transgender people and gender non-conforming individuals. Each participant looks directly at the camera, challenging the viewer to hold their gaze, while individual testimonies capture their stories. The images and testimonies form a living and growing archive of this community in South Africa and beyond.

The exhibition includes several other key series of works, including Brave Beauties, which celebrates empowered non-binary people and trans women, many of whom have won Miss Gay Beauty pageants, and Being, a series of tender images of couples which challenge stereotypes and taboos. Images like Melissa Mbambo, Durban also attempt to reclaim public spaces for black and queer communities, such as a beach in Durban which was racially segregated during apartheid. Within these series, Muholi tells collective as well as individual stories. They challenge preconceived notions of deviance and victimhood, encourage viewers to address their own misconceptions, and create a shared sense of understanding and solidarity.

More recently, Muholi has begun an acclaimed series of dramatic self-portraits entitled Somnyama Ngonyama (‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ in Zulu). Turning the camera on themself, the artist adopts different poses, characters and archetypes to address issues of race and representation. From scouring pads and latex gloves to rubber tires and cable ties, everyday materials are transformed into politically loaded props and costumes. The resulting images explore themes of labour, racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics, often commenting on events in South Africa’s history and Muholi’s experiences as a South African black queer person traveling abroad. By enhancing the contrast in the photographs, Muholi also emphasises the darkness of their skin tone, reclaiming their blackness with pride and re-asserting its beauty. Muholi has created some new self-portraits for this series which are being shown at Tate Modern for the first time.

Zanele Muholi is co-curated by Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator and Sarah Allen, Assistant Curator with Kerryn Greenberg, Head of International Collection Exhibitions, Tate and formerly Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, Gropius Bau in Berlin and Bildmuseet at Umeå University. Supported by the Zanele Muholi Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate Americas Foundation, Tate International Council, Tate Patrons and Tate Members . Research supported by Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational in partnership with Hyundai Motor.

 

About Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi was born in Umlazi, Durban and lives in Johannesburg. They studied at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, and Ryerson University, Toronto. Co-founder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, and founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media, Muholi is also an honorary professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, Germany. Solo exhibitions of Muholi’s work have been hosted around the world, including at the Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg (2012); Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015); Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2017); Autograph ABP, London (2017-) and Museo de Arte moderno de Buenos Aires (2018). Muholi has won numerous awards, including the Lucie Humanitarian Award (2019), the 2019 ‘Best Photography Book Award’ by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation for their book Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail, The Dark Lioness (Aperture), the Rees Visionary Award by Amref Health Africa (2019); a fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society, UK (2018); France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2017); the Mbokodo Award in the category of Visual Arts (2017);the ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism (2016); the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the Carnegie International (2013); a Prince Claus Award (2013); and both the Casa África award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). Somnyama Ngonyama was shown at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); Faces and Phases was shown at dOCUMENTA 13 (2012) and the 55th Venice Biennale (2013).

Muholi’s pronouns are they, them, their.

Press release from the Tate website

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photographs of Room 4 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020 showing photographs from the series Brave Beauties (2014 – ongoing)
Photos © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 4: Brave Beauties

Brave Beauties (2014 – ongoing) is a series of portraits of trans women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. Many of them are also beauty pageant contestants. Queer beauty pageants offer a space of resistance within the Black LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa. They are a place where individuals can realise and express their beauty outside heteronormative and white supremacist cultures. Muholi has commented that these participants ‘enter beauty pageants to change mind-sets in the communities they live in, the same communities where they are most likely to be harassed, or worse.’

This series is also inspired by fashion magazine covers. Muholi has questioned whether ‘South Africa as a democratic country would have an image of a trans woman on the cover of a magazine.’ These images aim to challenge queerphobic and transphobic stereotypes and stigmas.

As with all of Muholi’s images, the portraits are created through a collaborative process. Muholi and the participant determine the location, clothing and pose together, focusing on producing images that are empowering for both the participant and the audience.

Exhibition room guide text

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Sazi Jali, Durban' 2020

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Sazi Jali, Durban
2020
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Somizy Sincwala, Parktown' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Somizy Sincwala, Parktown
2014
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

The series Brave Beauties, started in 2014, is “a series of portraits of trans women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. Many of them are also beauty pageant contestants.” The queer beauty pageant is many things: a celebration – and redefinition – of beauty, a declaration of independence by contestants, a challenge to “heteronormative and white supremacist cultures,” and an attempt, as Muholi puts it, “to change mind-sets in the communities [the contestants] live in, the same communities where they are most likely to be harassed or worse.”

Anonymous. “Zanele Muholi, Tate Modern,” on the Something I’m Working On website Wednesday 30th December 2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Dimpho Tsotetsi, Parktown' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Dimpho Tsotetsi, Parktown
2014
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

What I really want to talk about is beauty. Because I think for Muholi, that’s kind of where it all stems from, is recognising beauty in things that you might not expect. Muholi has said “All I want to see is beauty. And that doesn’t mean you have to smile, or try harder. Just be.”

I think that’s very much linked to the history of Apartheid, of course […] As a Black person being told constantly ‘your hair isn’t straight enough’, ‘you should look like this’, ‘you should look like that’ and that being legislated under Apartheid. But it’s also what is in the magazines, this idea of the perfect beauty. Muholi’s counteracting them, saying actually, none of that is relevant. It’s about being the beauty that you want to be.

There’s a really great series called Brave Beauties, which […] pictures trans women and gender non-binary individuals, many of whom have been in beauty pageants, occupying space. Demanding attention. And being absolutely stunningly beautiful. And you kind think, ‘yeah, what are our notions of beauty, what are these kind of constructions that are absolutely false?’

Kerryn Greenberg

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Eva Mofokeng II, Parktown, Johannesburg' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Eva Mofokeng II, Parktown, Johannesburg
2014
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photograph of Room 5 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020
Photo © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 5: Collectivity

Collectivity lies at the heart of Muholi’s work. Many of Muholi’s large network of collaborators are members of their collective, Inkanyiso. This means ‘light’ in isiZulu, Muholi’s first language and one of 11 official languages in South Africa. Inkanyiso’s mission is to ‘Produce, educate and disseminate information to many audiences, especially those who are often marginalised or sensationalised by the mainstream media.’ Queer Activism = Queer Media, is the collective’s motto.

Self-organisation, mentorship and skill sharing are central to Muholi’s collaborative activity. This room features images that are collaboratively made. Whether documenting public events such as Pride marches and protests, or private events such as marriages and funerals, these images form an ever-expanding visual archive. By recording the existence of the Black LGBTQIA+ community, they resist erasure.

Exhibition room guide text

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Lerato Dumse, Muntu Masombuka’s Funeral, Johannesburg' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Lerato Dumse, Muntu Masombuka’s Funeral, Johannesburg
2014
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

Room 6: Faces and Phases

Muholi began their ongoing series Faces and Phases in 2006. The project currently totals 500+ works. As a collective portrait, it celebrates, commemorates and archives the lives of Black lesbians, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

It is important to mark, map and preserve our mo(ve)ments through visual histories for reference and posterity so that future generations will note that we were here.

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Many of these portraits are the result of a long and sustained relationship and collaboration. Muholi often returns to photograph the same person over time. Faces refers to the person being photographed. Phases signifies a transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and identity to another. It also marks the changes in the participants’ daily lives, including ageing, education, work experience and marriage. The gaps in the grid indicate individuals that are no longer present in the project, or a portrait yet to be taken. One wall in the exhibition is dedicated to the participants who have passed away.

Faces and Phases forms a living archive that visualises Muholi’s belief that ‘we express our gendered, radicalised, and classed selves in rich and diverse ways.’

Exhibition room guide text

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photographs of Room 6 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020 showing Muholi’s series Faces and Phases (2006 – ongoing)
Photos © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Faces and Phases is an ongoing series whereby the artist was seeking to document and photograph Black lesbians, trans men and gender non-conforming individuals. There’s now a mass of these incredibly beautiful portraits, which generally are presented in a grid, to show that, actually […] giving visibility to these people is a life’s work. There are many portraits of the same individuals over the course of a number of years. So you can see how people age, how they transition, sometimes, and how the way they present themselves, alters.

It is about acknowledging pain and trauma, and trying to heal people, and heal oneself through those images. Images that Muholi wants their community, to be proud of, and feel well represented by.

Kerryn Greenberg

 

Death is a constant presence in Muholi’s community and work. The largest space in this exhibition is given to Faces and Phases (2006 – ongoing), a collection of portraits – 500, and counting. The images “celebrate, commemorate and archive the lives of Black lesbians, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.” People appear more than once. Some spots on the walls are empty, marking a portrait yet to be taken or a participant no longer there. One wall is dedicated to those who have passed away.

Anonymous. “Zanele Muholi, Tate Modern,” on the Something I’m Working On website Wednesday 30th December 2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Tumi Mokgosi, Yeoville, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Tumi Mokgosi, Yeoville, Johannesburg
2007
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Nosipho Solundwana, Parktown, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Nosipho Solundwana, Parktown, Johannesburg
2007
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Manucha, Muizenberg, Cape Town' 2010

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Manucha, Muizenberg, Cape-Town
2010
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Nokuthula Dhladhla, Berea, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Nokuthula Dhladhla, Berea, Johannesburg
2007
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. '"TK" Tekanyo, Gaborone, Botswana' 2010

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
TK Tekanyo, Gaborone, Botswana
2010
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Zukiswa Gaca Makhaza, Khayelitsha, Cape Town' 2010

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Zukiswa Gaca Makhaza, Khayelitsha, Cape-Town
2010
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Marcel Kutumela, Alexandra, Johannesburg
2008
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Lungile Cleo Dladla, KwaThema, Community Hall, Springs, Johannesburg' 2011

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Lungile Cleo Dladla, KwaThema, Community Hall, Springs, Johannesburg
2011
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photograph of Room 7 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020
Photo © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 7: Sharing Stories

From their earliest days as an activist, Muholi sought to record first-hand testimonies and experiences of Black LGBTQIA+ people. Giving participants a platform to tell their own story, in their own words, has been an enduring goal. They have said:

Each and every person in the photos has a story to tell but many of us come from spaces in which most Black people never had that opportunity. If they had it at all, their voices were told by other people. Nobody can tell our story better than ourselves.

.
In this room, eight participants share stories of their lives and experiences as members of the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa. Some of them feature in the Faces and Phases project in the previous room. The interviews have been conducted and produced by Muholi’s collaborators, some of whom are members of Inkanyiso. Some testimonies do not use Muholi’s preferred gender pronouns they, them, theirs.

Exhibition room guide text

 

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

Installation Photograph of 'Zanele Muholi' Exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020

 

Installation photographs of Room 8 of the Zanele Muholi exhibition, Tate Modern, November 2020 showing Muholi’s series Somnyama NgonyamaHail the Dark Lioness
Photos © Andrew Dunkley

 

 

Room 8: Somnyama NgonyamaHail the Dark Lioness

Somnyama Ngonyama (2012 – ongoing) is a series in which Muholi turns the camera on themself to explore the politics of race and representation. The portraits are photographed in different locations around the world. They are made using materials and objects that Muholi sources from their surroundings.The images refer to personal reflections, colonial and apartheid histories of exclusion and displacement, as well as ongoing racism. They question acts of violence and harmful representations of Black people. Muholi’s aim is to draw out these histories in order to educate people about them and to facilitate the processing of these traumas both personally and collectively.

Muholi considers how the gaze is constructed in their photographs. In some images they look away. In others they stare the camera down, asking what it means for ‘a Black person to look back’. When exhibited together the viewer is surrounded by a network of gazes. Muholi increases the contrast of the images in this series, which has the effect of darkening their skin tone.

I’m reclaiming my Blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other.

.
The titles of the works in the series remain in isiZulu, Muholi’s first language. This is part of their activism, taking ownership of and pride in their language and identity. It encourages a Western audience to understand and pronounce the names. This critiques what happened during colonialism and apartheid. Then, Black people were often given English names by their employers or teachers who refused to remember or pronounce their real names.

Exhibition room guide text

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Julile I, Parktown, Johannesburg' 2016

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Julile I, Parktown, Johannesburg
2016
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Fisani, Parktown' 2016

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Fisani, Parktown
2016
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Thulani II, Parktown' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Thulani II, Parktown
2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Ziphelele, Parktown' 2016

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Ziphelele, Parktown
2016
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'MaID IV, New York' 2018

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
MaID-IV, New York
2018
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Yaya Mavundla, Parktown, Johannesburg' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Yaya Mavundla, Parktown, Johannesburg
2014
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Roxy Msizi Dlamini, Parktown, Johannesburg' 2017

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Roxy Msizi Dlamini, Parktown, Johannesburg
2017
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Ntozakhe II, Parktown' 2016

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Ntozakhe II, Parktown
2016
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Sebenzile, Parktown' 2016

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Sebenzile, Parktown
2016
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

As Muholi’s career started to take off internationally, they were traveling a huge amount in hotel rooms. They were exposed to the usual hassles of border immigration and airports, where racial profiling is still a reality, and entering spaces that are historically white. [They were] very conscious of the feeling that perhaps they were not quite wanted there, despite having been invited.

In 2012, they began to make a series of self-portraits, which actually I think are more accurately presented as self-projections, rather than self-portraits. In them, there is this sense of unapologetic selfhood. The sense that actually, you can be Black, you can encompass many histories, and projecting that in a really powerful way.

These photographs are often taken in situations, as I said, away from home, where Muholi might not have access to the same camera each time. And the light conditions are very variable. So, you’ll see that when they’re printed, they’re at very different scales, and that is representative of the fact that they’ve been made on the hop.

The itineracy of the lifestyle is very much evident in the pictures themselves, but also in the titles. They’re often titled in isiZulu, the artist’s home language. But then there will be the place in which they’ve been made, and that could be New York, that could be Norway, you know, a whole range of different locations.

Kerryn Greenberg

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Zazi II, Boston' 2019

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Zazi II, Boston
2019
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Xiniwe at Cassilhaus' 2016

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Xiniwe at Cassilhaus
2016
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

The unforgettable works in Somnyama NgonyamaHail the Dark Lioness are a divine ode to Black women past and present, in Africa and beyond. In this series of black and white self portraits, Muholi becomes the participant, encouraging viewers to question what they were taught to find beautiful, and why. Often adorning themselves with different domestic materials as a tribute to their mother, who was a domestic worker for a white family (and resultantly absent from Muholi’s childhood), Muholi alludes to the broader history of colonisation and enslavement. Muholi also uses symbolically loaded poses and props which both summon and challenge visual stereotypes of African women and oppressive white beauty standards. By drawing on familiar aesthetic tropes, like fashion magazine covers and advertisements, Muholi dismantles the Western narrative by replacing the typically white bodies and faces that fill these frames with depictions of radical, queer, Black beauty.

Cassidy George. “Zanele Muholi’s Photographs Celebrate Radical, Queer, Black Beauty,” on the W Magazine website 11/03/2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Vile, Gothenburg, Sweden' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Vile, Gothenburg, Sweden
2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Somnyama Ngonyama II, Oslo' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Somnyama Ngonyama II, Oslo
2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Bona, Charlottesville' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Bona, Charlottesville
2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Bester VIII, Philadelphia' 2018

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Bester VIII, Philadelphia
2018
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

Bester I

“This self-portrait is a special tribute to my late mother who passed on in 2009. She worked as a domestic worker for 42 years and was forced to retire due to ill health. After retirement she never lived long enough to enjoy her life at home with her family and grandchildren.

This photo is also a dedication to all the domestic workers around the globe who are able to fend for their families despite meagre salaries and make ends meet.

With this image I looked at how different people can use the materials of daily life for multiple purposes. The pegs lend an unexpected aesthetic to this photo and allow it to be read differently in the fashion world; the same goes for the striped mat. The pegs themselves can be seen as functional art in this regard. The striped doormat can also be used as shawl, but in this case it was meant for something else.

What people call a prop, I call material. The viewer is forced to rethink how they think about the materials – and their history.

I looked directly at the camera in order to create a sense of questioning or confrontation which could be read by viewers in different ways.”

~ Zanele Muholi, March 2017

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Bester I, Mayotte' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Bester I, Mayotte
2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Muholi Buhlalu I, The Decks, Cape Town' 2019

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Buhlalu I, The Decks, Cape Town
2019
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Qiniso, The Sails, Durban' 2019

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Qiniso, The Sails, Durban
2019
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness

In this work, Muholi has darkened their skin and whitened their eyes, and composed the picture in the manner of a classical, perfectly-lit studio portrait, posing with found objects as “costume” – a footstool as a helmet, say. There is so much to unpick in these images – references to colonialism, Apartheid, to the politics of race and representation, to femininity and “women’s work”. Muholi presents us with a kaleidoscope of views of injustice, equal parts beautiful and brutal.

The intellectual focus of every picture is slightly different. Zamile, KwaThema (2016) shows Muholi draped in a striped blanket, as used in South African prisons during Apartheid. In Quinso, The Sails, Durban (2019) Muholi’s hair is adorned with silvery Afro combs, a symbol of African and African diaspora cultural pride. In Nolwazi II, Nuoro, Italy (2015) their hair is stuffed with pens – a reference to the “pencil test” whereby, under Apartheid, if a pencil pushed into a person’s hair fell out they were “classified as white”.

Anonymous. “Zanele Muholi, Tate Modern,” on the Something I’m Working On website Wednesday 30th December 2020 [Online] Cited 11/05/2021

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Nolwazi II, Nuoro, Italy' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Nolwazi II, Nuoro, Italy
2015
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Lulamile, Room 107 Day Inn Hotel, Burlington' 2017

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Lulamile, Room 107 Day Inn Hotel, Burlington
2017
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Untitled' Nd

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York
© Zanele Muholi

 

FEW Stop the War on Women's Bodies poster c. 2005

 

FEW Stop the War on Women’s Bodies poster
c. 2005

 

 

Room 9: Tracing Contexts

Muholi defines themself as a visual activist. They were born in 1972 during the height of apartheid in South Africa. Today their work celebrates LGBTQIA+ identity in the new era of democracy after apartheid was brought to an end in 1994, while also addressing the ongoing risks that the community face. Muholi has spoken about this being the very means through which they ‘claim their full citizenship’. The artist’s place within South African histories of activism, both as they relate to apartheid and the emergence of queer activism, are explored in this timeline. The timeline helps to highlight particular contexts from which Muholi’s work emerges and remains deeply rooted.

 

Zanele Muholi: Glossary

The terms included in this glossary are culturally complex and nuanced. Whilst the co-authors and editors of this text have attempted to reflect this, it is worth noting that the interpretations offered here are not definitive, as the meanings of many of the terms herein are deeply subjective and are consistently contested, debated and re-evaluated.

Ally

An individual who actively supports the social movements and rights of LGBTQIA+ and other marginalised identities, but who does not identify as LGBTQIA+ or as a member of said marginalised groups.

Apartheid

A former policy / oppressive system that was officially implemented in South Africa from 1948 until 1994, to enforce racial segregation and political, economic and social discrimination against people of colour or anyone who was not classified as white. The word ‘apartheid’ is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘apartness’. The term has also been used to refer to global forms of institutionalised / systemic racial and socio-economic oppression that is still prevalent in societies across the world.

Asexual

An umbrella term used to describe those with a variation of romantic and/or sexual attraction, including a lack of attraction. The term can also describe people who are emotionally, psychologically and intellectually attracted to people, or where their attraction is not limited to physical sexual expression.

Assignment

Within the dominant culture informed by Western scientific models that classify gender and sex as binary, gender and sex are commonly assigned at birth based on external biological sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions. A vulva-bearing child is typically assigned female at birth (commonly shortened to ‘AFAB’), while a penis bearing child is typically assigned male at birth (commonly shortened to ‘AMAB’). AFAB and AMAB are terms commonly used by transgender, gender-non-conforming and non-binary people to demonstrate that the sex and / or gender one was assigned at birth may not necessarily match one’s true gender identity.

Bisexual

An umbrella term used to describe a romantic and / or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Bisexual people may describe themselves using one or more of a variety of terms, including (but not limited to) pansexual and queer.

Black

Capitalise when used to describe someone’s race, ethnicity or culture, unless the individual or group self-identifies otherwise.

Black Lesbian Feminism

A political identity, movement and school of thought that incorporates perspectives, experiences and politics around race, gender, class and sexual orientation, and surfaces the inextricable links between them.

Butch

A term used in queer culture to describe someone who often (but not always) expresses themselves in a typically masculine way. This term should not be used to describe someone unless they expressly identify as such.

Cis / Cisgender

A term used to describe someone whose gender identity matches the sex and gender they were assigned at birth.

Civil Union

Also known as a civil partnership, a civil union is a legally recognised arrangement which grants most or all of the rights, responsibilities and legal consequences of a marriage except the title itself. Civil unions were created primarily to provide recognition in law for same-sex couples and partnerships.

‘Corrective Rape’

A term used to describe a hate crime in which a person is raped because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The intended consequence of such acts is to enforce heterosexuality and gender conformity.

Family

A term widely used by queer and trans people to identify other queer and trans people. Also known as ‘chosen family’.

Femme

A term used in LGBTQIA+ culture to describe someone who often (but not always) expresses themselves in a typically feminine way. This term should not be used to describe someone unless they expressly identify as such.

Gay

A term used to refer to a man, trans person or non-binary person who tends to have a romantic and / or sexual orientation towards men. The term can also be used more broadly and colloquially to describe a same-sex or queer orientation.

Gender

Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth. One’s gender is made up of one’s gender identity (a person’s innate sense of their own gender) and gender expression (how a person outwardly expresses their gender).

Gender Binary

The system of dividing gender into two distinct categories – man and woman – thus excluding non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals.

Gender Dysphoria

Used to describe a person’s discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.

Gender Non-conforming / Non-conformity

A person who does not conform to the binary gender categories that society prescribes (man and woman) through their gender identity/expression.

Hate Crime

Any incident that may or may not constitute a criminal offence, perceived as being motivated by prejudice or hate. The perpetrators seek to demean and dehumanise their victims, whom they consider different from them based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, health status, nationality, social origin, religious convictions, culture, language or other characteristics.

Heteronormativity

A socio-political system that, predicated on the gender binary, upholds heterosexuality as the norm or default sexual orientation. Heteronormativity encompasses a belief that people fall into distinct and ‘complementary’ genders (men and women) with natural roles in life. It assumes that sexual, romantic and marital relations are most fitting between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman, positioning all other sexual orientations as ‘deviations’.

Homonationalism

A form of LGBTQIA+ advocacy that frames LGBTQIA+ rights in nationalistic terms that privilege North American and European expressions over those of the Middle East and the Global South, particularly Africa. Homonationalism sees the conceptual realignment of LGBTQIA+ activism to fit the goals and ideologies of both neoliberalism and the far right in order to justify racist, classist, Islamophobic and xenophobic perspectives. This framing is based on prejudices that migrant people are supposedly homophobic, and that western society is egalitarian.

Homophobia

The fear or dislike of someone based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about LGBTQIA+ people.

Homosexual

A person who has a romantic and / or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender. ‘Homosexual’ is often considered a more medical term. The terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are now more generally used.

Intersectionality

Emerging from the traditions of critical race theory, womanism and Black feminist thought, intersectionality encompasses the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. The term was formalised by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in a discussion around Black women’s employment in the US. Intersectionality rejects the notion of universal experiences of womanhood in favour of a more holistic assessment of how one’s race, class, ethnicity, age, ability, sexuality, nationality and religion can impact one’s experience of womanhood or gender, but also how these social inequalities intertwine with and shape one another.

Intersex

A term used to describe a person who may have biological attributes that do not fit with societal assumptions about what constitutes ‘male’ or ‘female’. These biological variations may manifest in different ways and at different stages throughout an individual’s life. Being intersex relates to biological sex characteristics and is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

isiNgqumo

A type of language used amongst the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa, mostly among the Nguni people.

isiStabane / Stabane

A slur or derogatory isiZulu term used in vernacular language to refer to a person who is from the LGBTQIA+ community in the Southern African context. Translated into English, the term means a person who is born with both male and female ‘parts’.

Lesbian

A term used to refer to a woman, trans person or non-binary person who tends to have a romantic and / or sexual orientation towards women or non-binary femmes.

LGBTQIA+

An acronym standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual. This is not an exhaustive list, as denoted by the inclusion of the plus symbol, which nods to the varying sexual orientations and gender identities that exist around the world.

Lobola

Also known as lobolo, lobola is a customary practice of marriage whereby the bridegroom’s family and kin transfer certain goods to the bride’s family in order to validate a customary marriage. Historically this was in the form of cattle, but today monetary payment is preferred, depending on the bride’s family.

MSM

An acronym standing for men who have sex with men. MSM may or may not identify as gay, queer or bisexual.

Necklacing

A practice of extrajudicial torture and execution whereby a burning rubber tyre is forced around a person’s neck. Under apartheid, necklacing was sometimes used within the Black community to punish those who were perceived to have collaborated with the apartheid government.

Non-binary

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’ (also often referred to as genderqueer). Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.

Outed

When an LGBTQIA+ person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is disclosed without their consent.

Pansexual

A term that refers to a person whose romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by sex or gender.

Passbook (dompas) / Reference book

An identification book or document that every person of colour or anyone who was not classified as white had to carry under the pass laws of apartheid. The book was made up of two parts. One part had a laminated identity card that featured the name of the bearer, their ethnic affiliation, the date the card was issued, the signature of an official and a black and white portrait photograph. The other part included five sections which listed information on permissions to enter urban areas, record of required medical examinations, names and addresses of employers, work status and receipts for tax payments. Colloquially, among the Black South African population, these passes were often referred to derogatorily as the dompas, an Afrikaans term literally meaning ‘dumb’ / ‘stupid pass’.

Patriarchy

A social hierarchy that privileges and prioritises men over women and other gender identities.

Pencil Test

A racist, dehumanising test that was devised to assist authorities in racial classification under apartheid. When officials were unsure if a person should be classified as white or of colour, a pencil would be pushed into their hair. If the pencil fell out, signalling that their hair was straight rather than curly, kinky or coily, the person ‘passed’ and was ‘classified’ as white.

People / Person of Colour (POC)

A term used to denote someone who is not considered white. The term is used to emphasise the common experiences of systemic racism amongst people of colour.

Pinkwashing

A term with multiple meanings, but that commonly refers to the appropriation of the LGBTQIA+ movement in order to promote some corporate or political agenda. The term is used to describe the practices of entities who market themselves as ‘gay-friendly’ to gain favour with progressives, while simultaneously masking aspects of their practices that are violent and undemocratic.

Pronouns

Words we use to refer to people’s gender in conversation – for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’, or gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they’.

QTIPOC

An acronym standing for queer, trans and intersex people of colour.

Queer

An umbrella term used by those who reject heteronormativity. Although some people view the word as a slur, it was reclaimed by the queer community, who have embraced it as an empowering and subversive identity.

Safe space

An environment that enables all persons, including sexual and gender minorities, to be free to express themselves without fear of discrimination or violation of their rights and dignity. Individual actions and reactions are key in upholding or violating a safe space.

Sangoma

A traditional African healer who specialises in treating people’s spiritual and physical diseases by looking into their past and future and connecting them with the ancestors. Healers believe that they are called by their ancestors to take on this important and respected position in society.

Sex

Sex is distinct from gender. Sex is assigned to a person at birth on the basis of biological sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive
functions.

Transgender

An umbrella term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people are binary-identified and others are not.

Transition

The steps a trans person may take to live in the gender with which they identify. Each person’s transition involves different processes. For some this involves medical intervention or gender affirming healthcare such as hormone therapy and surgeries (medical transition), but not all trans people want or are able to have this. Transitioning might also involve things such as telling friends and family, dressing differently, changing one’s pronouns (social transition) and changing official documents (legal transition).

Transmisogynoir

A term that characterises the marginalisation of Black trans women and transfeminine people and captures the intersection of transphobia, racism and misogyny. It is used to denote the fact that Black trans women experience a different, racialised form of misogyny that is compounded with transphobia.

Transmisogyny

A term capturing the interlocking discrimination of transphobia and misogyny. Transmisogyny includes negative attitudes, hate and discrimination toward transgender individuals who fall on the feminine side of the gender spectrum, particularly trans women and transfeminine people.

Transphobia

The fear or dislike of someone based on the fact that they are transgender, including the denial / refusal to accept their gender identity.

White Supremacy

A racist ideology in which people defined and perceived as white are positioned as superior to and should dominate people of other races, and the practices based on this ideology.

WSW

An acronym standing for women who have sex with women. WSW may or may not identify as lesbian, queer or bisexual.

Zulu

A Bantu ethnic group and language of Southern Africa situated within the Nguni people. They are a branch of the southern Bantu and have close ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with the Swazi and Xhosa. The Zulu are South Africa’s largest ethnic group, with an estimated population of 10 million, residing mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

 

 

Tate Modern
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07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

.
Many thankx to the High Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

.
Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

.
Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

.
Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy in Front of the Loew's 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The Street

Bey’s landmark black-and-white 1975-78 series “Harlem, USA” documents portraits and street scenes with locals of the historic neighbourhood in New York. As a young man growing up in Queens, Bey was intrigued by his family’s history in Harlem, where his parents met and where he visited family and friends throughout childhood. The series premiered at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979, when Bey was just 26.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977' 1977

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In his hands, portraiture conveys contradiction – diffident joy, resistant sorrow – and tells the truth.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978' 1978

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Throughout the 1980s, Bey continued to use a handheld 35 mm camera. This lightweight apparatus allowed him to respond intuitively and quickly to whatever captivated his eye, and his photographs during this time reflect his knowledge of contemporary street photography and his growing interest in capturing flux, movement, and the play of light and shadow. Although he continued to photograph people, he moved away from formal portraiture, instead endeavouring to capture individuals in more spontaneous ways.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986' 1986

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In 1985, during a residency at Light Work, a photography nonprofit affiliated with Syracuse University, New York, Bey photographed the city’s African American community. For him, it was both a political and aesthetic choice: “By then I felt that was part of my agenda: to make the African American subject a visible and resonant presence through my photographs […] it was as much about making a certain kind of photograph, and operating within a certain tradition, as it was a deliberate choice to foreground the black subject […] giving them a place … on the wall of galleries and museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

By the end of the 1980s, Bey had thoroughly digested the lessons of working spontaneously with a small camera and desired to work in a way that would allow him to engage more directly with his subjects. He began to make formal “street portraits” with a large-format (4- × 5-inch) camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that he used to make large-scale, highly detailed prints that could be enlarged to create monumental portraits. Bey was increasingly ambivalent about the ethics of traditional documentary photography and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters. He began to approach the strangers he wished to portray openly and deliberately, giving, as he writes, “the black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Poppy Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Poppy, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Few images of tenderness have such resounding power as this lush portrait of a young, stylish couple embracing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Note how perfectly their bodies fit together as he relaxes his shoulders, allowing her to easily wrap her arms around him protectively, declaring with the upward tilt of her chin and her direct gaze at us that they are together, united in love. Pictures as openly intimate as this one emerged from Bey’s deep and abiding interest in “wanting to describe the Black subject in a way that’s as complex as the experiences of anyone else.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, and Rena Bransten Gallery
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

For more than four decades, renowned photographer Dawoud Bey has created powerful and tender photographs that portray underrepresented communities and explore African American history. From portraits in Harlem and classic street photography to nocturnal landscapes and large-scale studio portraits, his works combine an ethical imperative with an unparalleled mastery of his medium. The High Museum of Art celebrates his important contributions to photography as the exclusive Southeast venue for Dawoud Bey: An American Project, the artist’s first full career retrospective in 25 years.

Co-organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the exhibition features approximately 80 works that span the breadth of Bey’s career, from his earliest street portraits made in Harlem in the 1970s to his most recent series reimagining sites of the Underground Railroad (2017).

The High has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Bey, who was commissioned in 1996 for the Museum’s inaugural “Picturing the South” series, which asks noted photographers to turn their lens toward the American South. For his project, Bey collaborated with Atlanta high school students to create empathetic, larger-than-life portraits. Made with the monumental 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera, these photographs explore the complexity of adolescence as a time of critical identity formation and expand the concept of portraiture. The High now holds more than 50 photographs by Bey, one of the most significant museum collections of his work.

“Bey’s portraits are remarkable for their keen sensitivity and for how they elicit and honour their subjects’ sense of self, which is partly an outcome of the artist’s collaborative practice,” remarked Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Given the museum’s long relationship with Bey and the strength of our holdings, we are thrilled to present this important retrospective. We look forward to sharing the artist’s photographs and his powerful and moving reflections on African American history and identity in their country with our visitors.”

Bey, born in 1953 in Queens, New York, began to develop an interest in photography as a teenager. He received his first camera as a gift from his godmother in 1968, and the next year, he saw the exhibition “Harlem on My Mind” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Widely criticised for its failure to include significant numbers of artworks by African Americans, the exhibition’s representation of Black subjects nonetheless made an impression on Bey and inspired him to develop his own documentary project about Harlem in 1975. Since that time, he has worked primarily in portraiture, making tender, psychologically rich and direct portrayals, often in collaboration with his subjects. More recently, he has explored seminal moments in African American history through both portraiture and landscape.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project includes work from the artist’s eight major series and is organised to reflect the development of Bey’s vision throughout his career and to highlight his enduring engagement with portraiture, place and history.

Press release from The High Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Images courtesy of the artist and High Museum. Photos by Mike Jensen.

 

Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey
Photo: Sean Kelly Gallery

 

 

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey was born in Queens, New York, and began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

Since then his work has been featured in exhibitions at numerous institutions worldwide, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among many others.

His photographs are represented in collections worldwide, and his critical writings on photography have appeared in numerous publications and exhibition catalogues. Bey received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” fellowship in 2017 and is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003' 2003

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003
2003
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Class Pictures series:

“It was a sort of snapshot of America through its young people at that particular moment. I started working in Chicago, then to New York, California and Florida. I wanted it to be geographically representative of the country. I’ve always been acutely aware that photographs tell you a lot less than what they do tell you. There’s certain things you would never know just from looking at them. You wouldn’t know from a portrait if someone is an only child, whether they have siblings, who their parents are. There’s a lot of information outside of a photograph. For Class Pictures, I thought that was important to bring that information into the construct of work and to create a space of self-representation. The young people who I photographed could give a sense of who they were.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006
2006
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and deeply political. In this series, he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” Class Pictures (2001-2006) originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high school students. He later expanded it to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made formal colour portraits of teens that attend, carefully and tenderly, to their gestures and expressions. He also invited them to write brief autobiographical statements, giving his subjects visibility as well as voice. Class Pictures can also be understood as a play on words, for in several cases, Bey chose to photograph students at elite private schools as well as teens from nearby, poorer neighbourhoods, bringing together these subjects in a single space.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Don Sledge and Moses Austin' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Don Sledge and Moses Austin
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mary Parker and Caela Cowan' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mary Parker and Caela Cowan
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“Together the sitters for The Birmingham Project are simultaneously surrogates, mourners, witnesses, community, and agents of their own narratives. These subjects, then are not symbols but flesh and bone.”

 

In 2012, the project was created as a commission from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It memorialises the victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four African-American girls were killed in the bombing, and two boys were later killed in riots that followed.

“I decided to make portraits of young African-Americans in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as those six young people who had been killed that day. I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence.” Bey continues, “It still felt somewhat complete. I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility. Then, I started thinking about making portraits of African-Americans in Birmingham who were the ages of the six young people would have been their age today. I begun pairing those portraits with those young people, which embodied 50 years.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Dawoud Bey’s large-scale photographs dive into art and literary history while trying to re-create the experience of slaves fleeing on the Underground Railroad.

“I consider myself to be making photographs both in conversation with the history of photography and also the history of Black representation within photography. I wanted to use what I learned early on from looking at photographs by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Walker Evans and Mike Disfarmer – along with what I learned from Roy DeCarava, who was African American – and apply all of that to my own African American subjects as I began to build my vocabulary of picture-making. Because I’m African American myself, and because so few representations of African Americans are made from inside that experience, I set out to make that my space, to make work that operated at the level of those other photographs but with Black subjects, since those were the people I knew best. I also wanted to add something to the history of Black expressive culture. …

Night Coming Tenderly, Black continues my interest in visualising African American history by visualising the past in the contemporary moment. It takes as its conceptual touchstones the photographs of DeCarava, which are about the Black subject and often printed very darkly, some almost black. The blackness of his prints is a very beautiful and materially lush blackness. And the Black subjects inhabit this wonderful material darkness in a way that is not foreboding but is beautiful.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey. ‘Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)’ 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The photographs in this series are some of the most sensual and layered. These are sights that are at first confining then liberating when you understand them through the lens of history.

In their grandeur and mystery, they transform houses masked in darkness, bodies of water, and fields into an emblematic hope. A pristine fencepost and a homestead visible through the haze of the darkness; a wetland glistening in nightfall; a jungle thick with small trees; an image of Lake Erie, with the expansive sky and horizon forewarning the freedom that lies beyond.

 

The Underground Railroad

Night Coming Tenderly, Black contains 25 large-scale images of homesteads with wooded or grassy grounds that are believed to have formed the part of the said Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is an actual invisible web of routes and safe houses believed to have made the final way station for more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaping to Canada. But according to the artist himself, some of the images may be of actual Underground Railroad.

 

The meaning of the title

This series is also a tribute to poet Langston Hughes (1901-1967) and photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), who each played significant roles in addressing the experience of African Americans by representing what DeCarava described as a world shaped by blackness. Bey was inspired by DeCarava’s incredible ability to print a spectrum of dark hues, making him picture landscapes of twilight uncertainty.

On the other hand, Hughes Langston wrote a poem titled Dream Variations in 1926, in which he yearned for a time when the black American worker, extremely tired by the daily hustle of hard labor and prejudice, might be truly free. However, this freedom, he imagined, would not be obtained in the glare of daylight, but instead under the ominous, protective cover of the night.

Upending a dominant literary conceit, blackness, rather than whiteness, functioned as an allegory for hope and transcendence. A night coming tenderly, black like me, (Hughes poem), helped the fight for racial equality and justice. The metaphor in the poem is central to Dawoud Bey’s series Night Coming Tenderly, Black.

 

Influenced by Roy DeCarava

Bey has never stopped waxing lyrical on the influence of the two figures that inspired his artistic career, especially Roy DeCarava, who was one of the most prominent photographers of his generation. The images he took were visually rich and redolent, and they pushed the aesthetic limits of photography…

Dawoud Bey noted that DeCarava’s images were characteristically printed in dark and rich colour range. In this context, the dark prints served as a symbol for black subjects and experience. Bey says:

“DeCarava used blackness as an affirmative value, as a kind of beautiful blackness through which his subjects both moved and emerged. His work was formative to my own thinking early on, and these dark landscapes are a kind of material conversation with his work, using the darkness of the landscape and the photographic print as an evocative space of blackness through which the unseen and imaginary black fugitive subject is moving.” …

The artist printed these images in a large size to encase the viewer and deliberately dark to reveal his subject matter: He took the photos of the sites in and near Cleveland associated with the Underground Railroad that guided the slaves to liberation.

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #12 (The Marsh)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #12 (The Marsh)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I ranged far and wideout there since there were expansive rural landscapes that looked as they might have in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscape and the history there have not been built over…

Some of the photographs, to the extent that we know, are actual Underground Railroad sites, and the majority of them are placed in the landscape that I identified in proximity to some of those locations, where I could make work that suggested the movement of fugitive slaves through the landscape…

I wanted the photographs to almost involuntarily pull you back to the experience of the landscape through which those fugitive black bodies were moving in the 19th century to escape slavery. So I had to learn, for the first time, how to make photographs in the kind of space…

It is a tender one, through which one moves. That is the space I imagined the fugitive black subjects moving through as they sought their self-liberation, moving through the dark landscape of America and Ohio toward freedom under cover of a munificent and blessed blackness.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown's Tannery)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown’s Tannery)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #17 (Forest)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #17 (Forest)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Night Coming Tenderly, Black series:

“The photographs are meant to imagine or reimagine the path of self-liberation in Northeastern Ohio along what is called the ‘Underground Railroad’. Formerly slaved Africans, and then African-Americans moved towards freedom by way of Lake Eerie in Ohio. I began to think about the fugitive moving through this tender space of blackness.”

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The gelatin silver prints in Night Coming Tenderly, Black are moody and dim, overlaid with a sheen that is almost gritty in texture thanks to the coated paper they are printed on. The trees, fences, lakes, and buildings in the photos are initially obscured, purposefully made more difficult to see through Bey’s printing methods (which take advantage of the light sensitivity of silver particles as well as their ability to be chemically “toned” through the introduction of other substances). These images resist both reproduction and easy interpretation. That one also has to wait for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, before slowly traveling over the terrain of each picture, reminds the viewer that the formerly enslaved people who traversed these sites often did so under cover of darkness. Darkness here is multivalent: its obscuring power, which prevents viewers from immediately processing the whole of Bey’s photographs, aided formerly enslaved people in their escape. The Underground Railroad, as the artist has noted, occupies a semi-mythological place in American history, and some of the places Bey photographs are only cannot be confirmed to have been stops on the Railroad. Like the experience of slavery, these places are unrepresentable. They are half-shrouded locales that evade being captured on a map or in a photo.

Though these photographs are dark, they are shot in the daylight and processed in such a way as to make them initially appear to be taken at night. They bring to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerily beautiful “Seascapes” series (1980- ongoing), which are shot at night, the film exposed for different lengths of time in order to reveal how light plays even after dark. Yet there is no analogous method for bringing night to the day. Bey may make his photos dark, but this is achieved through processing and glazing the finish image, which occurs after the initial act of taking the photograph. How can we account for Bey’s artificial night?

The philosopher François Laruelle’s 2011 book The Concept of Non-Photography suggests one answer to this question. In essence, Laruelle starts with the premise that works of art cannot and do not represent anything, be it objects, thoughts, concepts, or movements. He posits art as an entirely self-sufficient engagement with the world (which he calls the Real), independent even of viewer and creator. Art is a machine; the medium, processes, and even the artist are its materials. What art “shows,” Laurelle argues, is only the world according to itself – which he terms the world-in-painting, the world-in-photo, and so on. He turns to photography in part because of its connection to modern scientific advancement and its attempts literally to illuminate the world “objectively.” Non-photography aims to re-conceptualise the photographic flash, which Laruelle associates with the flash of logos or reason, as a form of potential insurrection against its traditional association with illumination, and against photography’s constant reproduction of the asymmetrical dichotomy between light and dark.

Anna Mirzayan. “”Artificial night”: on Dawoud Bey’s America,” on the Art Agenda website December 15 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I was thinking about this narrative of the Black subject — the unseen Black subject, in this case — a fugitive slave moving through the darkness of night,” Bey explains. “And that darkness of night being the kind of Black space that would lead to liberation.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret, and Bey’s landscapes suggest, rather than document, the experience. Photographed by day but printed in shades of grey and black so deep they resemble nocturnes, the sensuous prints conjure a darkness at once ominous and lush. The series title, which is drawn from the last couplet of Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Variations” (1926), suggests a black night that envelops the fugitives in a darkness that serves as a protective embrace: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

 

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14
Feb
21

Exhibition: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409
From ‘New art from wall to wall’ ongoing

 

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

As you can imagine, with the tragic situation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic around the world at the moment, there are few photography exhibitions on view.

This selection of images comes from the collection 1940s-1970s at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in an ongoing display. Please note that not all Gordon Parks photographs shown here are on display, but I include them to give the viewer an overview, a greater understanding of the breadth of photographs included in Parks’ cinematic photo-essay.

Can you imagine the fortitude of this man: “born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant labourer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself and becoming a photographer. He evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer.” “The first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture (Shaft) for a major Hollywood studio.” As a photographer he learnt his craft shooting dresses for department stores, taking portraits of society women in Chicago, and studying “the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange”. Before joining them as a member of the FSA.

This body of work is remarkable for its non-judgemental gaze, a felt response to a subject which was an assignment for LIFE magazine: an objective reporter with a subjective heart as Parks proclaimed, one who had a certain kind of empathy, “expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” Park’s photographic strategy was to use colour (rare and expensive in those days), and to close in on detail. Rarely if at all are there any mid to long shots in the photo-essay, placing the photograph in a particular location, the exception being the Untitled street scene under the Chicago “L” (short for “elevated”) rapid transit system and the night-time shot of an illuminated Alcatraz Island – remote, forbidding, isolated.

Photographed with candour – using low depth of field, silhouette, chiaroscuro, natural light, low light, night photography, no blur, little flash and challenging perspective, aesthetically a mixture of Dorothea Lange, Weegee and the colour images of Saul Leiter – other intimate images in the series create an “atmosphere” of everyday life on the streets and in the prisons, capturing how the disenfranchised, the desperate and the destitute are controlled and processed by force. “Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” In Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois (1957) we see two detectives of Italian descent raiding a dingy run-down tenement, busting the door open unannounced, guns drawn. In the photograph underneath in the posting, taken inside the oh so red room with floral curtains, one of the detectives questions a black suspect smoking a cigarette, while on the table covered with newspapers sits a burning candle probably providing the only illumination. Cowering in the shadows is a black women, almost unnoticed until you really look at the photograph. This is what abject poverty looks like. In another photograph, Untitled, New York, New York (1957), black and white men emerge from a police van – about the only time black and white men would have sat together in the segregated society of the time (other than being in prison). Can you imagine the atmosphere inside the paddy wagon, the looks, the conversation or lack of it?

Parks’ beautiful photographs, for they are that, include challenging depictions of death, drug use and nonchalantly displayed items such as guns and knuckledusters. Violence and the outcomes of it are an ever present theme in Parks’ documentation of the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities. The photographs are frequently heartbreaking, such as the scars on the legs of a Black American; or devastating, such as the photograph Knifing Victim I (1957). Park’s compresses the space of the action, attacking the nitty gritty of the mise en scène but with no rush to judgement, just telling it how it is. As Sebastian Smee so eloquently observes, “If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy [of slavery, of lynching]. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.”

And so it goes, both for the marginalised in America and for Indigenous Australians. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018 Black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population, white males 29%, and Hispanic males 24%” (Wikipedia) while the percentage of US population that is black is 14%. “As of September 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total adult prisoner population, while accounting for 3.3% of the general population.” (Wikipedia)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs are used for the purposes of education and research under fair use conditions.

 

 

In 1957, Life staff photographer Gordon Parks traversed New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco capturing crime scenes, police precincts, and prisons for “The Atmosphere of Crime,” as his photo essay was titled when it appeared in the magazine. Rather than identify or label “the criminal,” Parks – a fierce advocate for civil rights and a firm believer in photography as a catalyst for change – documented the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities.

Here, Parks’s series is presented in relation to a long history of picturing criminality. In the nineteenth century, mug shots relied on photography’s supposed objectivity as the basis of their value for identification and surveillance. In the twentieth, more sensational images of victims, raids, and arrests circulated in newspapers and tabloids. In contrast, Parks urges us to look beyond individual people and events, to consider the forces of state and police power that are inextricable from any history of crime – a lesson as essential now as ever.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

“I’m an objective reporter with a subjective heart,” proclaimed Gordon Parks. “I can’t help but have a certain kind of empathy… It’s more or less expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” For over half a century, from the 1940s to the 2000s, Gordon Parks captured American life with his powerful photographs. After getting his first camera at the age of 25, he used this “weapon of choice” to attack issues including racism, poverty, urban life, and injustice. He became the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine – an immensely influential platform in the golden age of photo-illustrated magazines that not only allowed his art to be seen by many but also brought a critical, nuanced and, importantly, a Black perspective to the stories and depictions that he shared. For a 1957 assignment, he crisscrossed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing vivid colour images addressing the perceived rise in crime in the US. This series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” challenged stereotypical images of delinquency, drug use, and corruption.

.
Text from the Gordon Parks Foundation website

 

“I don’t know that there is any one thing called “the Black experience,” but the way ‘Life magazine’ used Gordon Parks’ photographs for me actually reinscribed some of those notions of Black pathology, such as a story about a gang member (who was actually a pretty normal young man) or extreme poverty and social disenfranchisement. Parks was a much more complex photographer than that, as we came to fully know after his death, but that’s how we came to know him through ‘Life magazine’.”

.
Dawoud Bey quoted in Gail O’Neill. “Q&A: How Dawoud Bey uses photography to amplify his voice in the world,” on the ‘ARTS ATL’ website November 6, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

 

 

Sarah Meister, curator in the Department of Photography, looks at images from Gordon Parks’s 1957 photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” (1957) and is moved by the power (and, sadly, continued relevance) of his ability to confront “the great social evils of his time” with an “incredible artistic sensibility.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Closing in on a known criminal on Chicago’s South Side, police in a scout car check tensely by radio with headquarters. City lights rainbow the storm-splattered windshield as the car approaches the hideout.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 46.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957 (detail)

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (detail)
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957

Gordon Parks’ ethically complex depictions of crime in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with previously unseen photographs.

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay The Atmosphere of Crime was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use, and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and afforded a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Anonymous. “Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957,” on the Exibart Street website [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A sidewalk puddle reflects a common tragedy. A police van drives up to a Chicago hospital’s emergency door with a knifing victim. Tired attendants, once compassionate, sit idly by.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A prowl car halts in a New York street, a youth comes nervously to its side. “You clean?” the cop asks. “We’re watching you.”

Text from “The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California [Pre-execution report]
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print
16 × 20″ (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The left hand of a man who knows the ropes nonchalantly dangles a cigaret through the bars of a Chicago prison. But the man’s right hand, grasping the bars below, betrays him: he is frustrated and locked in.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

 

MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime

The photographs will go on view in the New York museum’s permanent collection galleries in May, along with a selection of works by other artists and a clip from the classic 1971 film Shaft

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has acquired a full set of photographs by Gordon Parks from The Atmosphere of Crime series, a photographic essay examining crime in America he created on assignment with Life magazine in 1957. Along with 55 modern colour inkjet prints created from Parks’s transparencies, selected and bought in consultation with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the foundation has gifted a vintage gelatin silver print that matches a work already in MoMA’s collection, given by the photographer in 1993. Around 15 pieces from the series will go on view in a dedicated gallery on the fourth floor in May, along with an excerpt from his classic 1971 film Shaft and works by other artists from the collection, as part of the next reinstallation of the permanent galleries.

The acquisition comes through years of conversations with the Gordon Parks Foundation, which has been organising in-depth exhibitions of the photographer’s work at major museums since his death in 2006. “When Sarah Meister [MoMA’s curator of photography] and I began speaking a few years ago about how the museum could make a major acquisition, it was about what body of work would really have the most impact to what’s going on in the current world,” says Peter Kunhardt, Jr, the foundation’s executive director. “And we both felt that The Atmosphere of Crime was so relevant, not only because so much hasn’t changed today in our criminal justice system and with police brutality and violence, but also because the work is in colour.”

Colour photography was prohibitively expensive to produce outside of commercial projects at the time Parks first shot the series, Meister explains, and only a selection of images from the series were printed in colour in Life. “The transparencies that Gordon Parks made have been held back for a number of years for the right institution to thoughtfully put together an exhibition and book,” Kunhardt adds. The catalogue, published by Steidl with essays by Meister, Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the art historian Nicole Fleetwood, who also wrote Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, includes all the images from the acquisition.

Extract from Helen Stoilas. “MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 February 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

None of these images is crude or cliched. A few, it’s true, are brutally direct, in the spirit of Robert Lowell (“Yet why not say what happened?”) or Walker Evans (“If the thing is there, why there it is.”). But others are oddly – and arrestingly – tentative. They’re optically blurred, obscured by visual impediments, as if filtered through the artist’s melancholy, his pity, his black-of-night bewilderment. Looking at them, you feel that something others might rush to – judgment, sentencing, finality – has been deliberately withheld. …

The presence of the word “atmosphere” in the title is apt. It captures both the cumulative impact of the imagery and the complexity of crime’s causes and effects. Park’s use of blur, his unexpected vantage points and his embrace of pooling darkness all elevate his feeling for complication and suffering over the usual simplistic story lines that crowd to the subject of crime. …

Between 1880 and 1950, lynchings were committed in open defiance of the law, terrorising a Black population that proceeded to escape to the ghettos of the North in massive numbers.

If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.

Big-city street crime has been in steady decline for three decades now. And yet the complexities and inequities of American crime still hinge on race and are still crudely narrated in the media.

Extract from Sebastian Smee. “With his camera, Gordon Parks humanized the Black people others saw as simply criminals,” on The Washington Post website August 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957 front cover

 

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47.

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47. Photograph by Gordon Parks.

 

LIFE magazine 'Crime in the U.S.'

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957. Photographs by Gordon Parks.

 

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 68-69.

 

 

“BANDIT’S ROOST” in New York’s Mulberry Street in 1890s housed Italians who, like most economically exploited immigrant groups, had a high incidence of crime. As Sellin explains, this dropped as they prospered.

Unattributed photograph by Jacob Riis (see below).

 

Jacob Riis (Danish-American, 1849-1914) 'Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street' 1888

 

Jacob Riis (American, born Denmark 1849-1914)
Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street
1888
From How the Other Half Lives

 

This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

 

 

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914) was a Danish-American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer. He contributed significantly to the cause of urban reform in America at the turn of the twentieth century. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City; those impoverished New Yorkers were the subject of most of his prolific writings and photography. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.

While living in New York, Riis experienced poverty and became a police reporter writing about the quality of life in the slums. He attempted to alleviate the bad living conditions of poor people by exposing their living conditions to the middle and upper classes. …

 

Photography

Bandit’s Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City. Riis had for some time been wondering how to show the squalor of which he wrote more vividly than his words could express. He tried sketching, but was incompetent at this. Camera lenses of the 1880s were slow as was the emulsion of photographic plates; photography thus did not seem to be of any use for reporting about conditions of life in dark interiors. In early 1887, however, Riis was startled to read that “a way had been discovered to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way.” The German innovation, by Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke, flash powder was a mixture of magnesium with potassium chlorate and some antimony sulfide for added stability; the powder was used in a pistol-like device that fired cartridges. This was the introduction of flash photography.

Recognising the potential of the flash, Riis informed a friend, Dr. John Nagle, chief of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the City Health Department who was also a keen amateur photographer. Nagle found two more photographer friends, Henry Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, and the four of them began to photograph the slums. Their first report was published in the New York newspaper The Sun on February 12, 1888; it was an unsigned article by Riis which described its author as “an energetic gentleman, who combines in his person, though not in practice, the two dignities of deacon in a Long Island church and a police reporter in New York”. The “pictures of Gotham’s crime and misery by night and day” are described as “a foundation for a lecture called ‘The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York.’ to give at church and Sunday school exhibitions, and the like.” The article was illustrated by twelve line drawings based on the photographs.

Riis and his photographers were among the first Americans to use flash photography. Pistol lamps were dangerous and looked threatening, and would soon be replaced by another method for which Riis lit magnesium powder on a frying pan. The process involved removing the lens cap, igniting the flash powder and replacing the lens cap; the time taken to ignite the flash powder sometimes allowed a visible image blurring created by the flash.

Riis’s first team soon tired of the late hours, and Riis had to find other help. Both his assistants were lazy and one was dishonest, selling plates for which Riis had paid. Riis sued him in court successfully. Nagle suggested that Riis should become self-sufficient, so in January 1888 Riis paid $25 for a 4×5 box camera, plate holders, a tripod and equipment for developing and printing. He took the equipment to the potter’s field cemetery on Hart Island to practice, making two exposures. The result was seriously overexposed but successful.

For three years, Riis combined his own photographs with others commissioned of professionals, donations by amateurs and purchased lantern slides, all of which formed the basis for his photographic archive.

Because of the nighttime work, he was able to photograph the worst elements of the New York slums, the dark streets, tenement apartments, and “stale-beer” dives, and documented the hardships faced by the poor and criminal, especially in the vicinity of notorious Mulberry Street. …

 

Social attitudes

Riis’s concern for the poor and destitute often caused people to assume he disliked the rich. However, Riis showed no sign of discomfort among the affluent, often asking them for their support. Although seldom involved with party politics, Riis was sufficiently disgusted by the corruption of Tammany Hall to change from being an endorser of the Democratic Party to endorse the Republican Party. The period just before the Spanish-American War was difficult for Riis. He was approached by liberals who suspected that protests of alleged Spanish mistreatment of the Cubans was merely a ruse intended to provide a pretext for US expansionism; perhaps to avoid offending his friend Roosevelt, Riis refused the offer of good payment to investigate this and made nationalist statements.

Riis emphatically supported the spread of wealth to lower classes through improved social programs and philanthropy, but his personal opinion of the natural causes for poor immigrants’ situations tended to display the trappings of a racist ideology. Several chapters of How the Other Half Lives, for example, open with Riis’ observations of the economic and social situations of different ethnic and racial groups via indictments of their perceived natural flaws; often prejudices that may well have been informed by scientific racism.

 

Criticism

Riis’s sincerity for social reform has seldom been questioned, but critics have questioned his right to interfere with the lives and choices of others. His audience comprised middle-class reformers, and critics say that he had no love for the traditional lifestyles of the people he portrayed. Stange (1989) argues that Riis “recoiled from workers and working-class culture” and appealed primarily to the anxieties and fears of his middle-class audience. Swienty (2008) says, “Riis was quite impatient with most of his fellow immigrants; he was quick to judge and condemn those who failed to assimilate, and he did not refrain from expressing his contempt.” Gurock (1981) says Riis was insensitive to the needs and fears of East European Jewish immigrants who flooded into New York at this time.

Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell (2001) argues that immigrants during Riis’s time were typically willing to live in cramped, unpleasant circumstances as a deliberate short-term strategy that allowed them to save more than half their earnings to help family members come to America, with every intention of relocating to more comfortable lodgings eventually. Many tenement renters physically resisted the well-intentioned relocation efforts of reformers like Riis, states Sowell, because other lodgings were too costly to allow for the high rate of savings possible in the tenements. Moreover, according to Sowell, Riis’s own personal experiences were the rule rather than the exception during his era: like most immigrants and low-income persons, he lived in the tenements only temporarily before gradually earning more income and relocating to different lodgings.

Riis’s depictions of various ethnic groups can be harsh. In Riis’s books, according to some historians, “The Jews are nervous and inquisitive, the Orientals are sinister, the Italians are unsanitary.”

Riis was also criticised for his depiction of African Americans. He was said to portray them as falsely happy with their lives in the “slums” of New York City. This criticism didn’t come until much later after Riis had died. His writing was overlooked because his photography was so revolutionary in his early books.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

“The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” in Life Magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 58-59.

 

 

Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking 1971 film, “Shaft”; because two fine shows of his pioneering photojournalism are on view at the Jack Shainman galleries in Chelsea; because a suite from his influential 1957 series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” is a highlight of “In and Around Harlem,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art; and because, somehow, despite the long shadow cast by a man widely considered the preeminent Black American photographer of the 20th century, he is too little known, the time seems right to revisit some elements of the remarkable life, style and undimmed relevance of Gordon Parks.

 

Last born of 15 children, he made a career of firsts

Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, on Nov. 30, 1912, he attended segregated schools where he was prohibited from playing sports and was advised not to aim for college because higher education was pointless for people destined to be porters and maids.

Once, he was beaten up for walking with a light-skinned cousin. Once, he was tossed into the Marmaton River by three white boys fully aware that he could not swim. Once, he was thrown out of a brother-in-law’s house where he was sent to live after his mother’s death. This was in St. Paul, at Christmas. He rode a trolley all night to keep warm.

 

The road to fame had plenty of detours

At various points in his early years, Parks played the piano in a brothel, was a janitor in a flophouse and was a dining car waiter on the cross-country railroad. He survived these travails to become, following a route that was anything but direct, the first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture for a major Hollywood studio. By the standards of a Jim Crow era, Parks’ perseverance rose to the level of the biblical.

 

He got his break shooting dresses

As passengers have done everywhere and always, those on the North Coast Limited between Chicago and Seattle tossed their onboard reading when they were done. Parks scavenged the well-thumbed magazines and, taking them home, discovered both the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange and the exotic spheres depicted in Vogue.

He bought his first camera at a pawnshop in Seattle in 1937 and taught himself how to use it. Returning to the Minneapolis area where he had lived for a time, he scouted work shooting for local department stores. All except one rebuffed him.

This, as it happened, was Frank Murphy, the most fashionable boutique in the city, a shop with a running fountain, a resident parrot and a clientele that ran to women from the Pillsbury, Ordway and Dayton dynasties and who relied on the buyers there to supply them with things like “telephone dresses,” for those who considered it unseemly to take calls in dishabille.

By legend, it was the owner’s wife, Madeleine, who insisted that her husband hire the fledgling photographer despite his inexperience, for reasons never made clear. The bet paid off, though, since the images Parks produced promptly resulted in more work, a local exhibition and a telephone call from Marva Louis, then the wife of the world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, who encouraged him to relocate to Chicago, where he began taking portraits of society women. It was a career transit compressed in a sequence of events so implausible as to seem cinematic. Yet, for Parks, it was just a beginning.

“From the start, Parks knew how to make a beautiful picture,” photography critic Vince Aletti said. And it is true that, long after Parks established his reputation with unflinching photographic series on the civil rights movement, Harlem gangs, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, he continued to move easily between photojournalism and the fashion work for which he maintained a lifelong regard – and which, along with his access to elements of Black life largely invisible to white readers, was among the reasons he was hired in the first place by Life.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)' 1870s-80s

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)
1870s-80s
Albumen silver prints
Each 9 1/8 × 4 7/16″ (23.2 × 11.2cm)

 

Times Wide World Photos. "Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today" April 1927

 

Times Wide World Photos
“Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today”
April 1927
Gelatin silver print
9 7/8 × 7 1/2″ (25.1 × 19.1cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Times Wide World Photos

 

 

Ruth Brown Snyder (March 27, 1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderer. Her execution in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder, was recorded in a well-publicised photograph.

 

Associated Press. "Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching" 1934

 

Associated Press
“Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching”
1934
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 3/8″ (16.5 × 21.3cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' 1942

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
1942
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.2 × 33.5cm)
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Weegee/ICP/Getty Images

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins. 'Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York' March 29, 1951

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York
March 29, 1951
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 7/16″ (16.5 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

 

Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. The couple was accused of providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and valuable nuclear weapon designs; at that time the United States was the only country in the world with nuclear weapons. Convicted of espionage in 1951, they were executed by the federal government of the United States in 1953 in the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York, becoming the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to suffer that penalty during peacetime.

Other convicted co-conspirators were sentenced to prison, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass (who had made a plea agreement), Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working in Los Alamos, was convicted in the United Kingdom.

For decades, the Rosenbergs’ sons (Michael and Robert Meeropol) and many other defenders maintained that Julius and Ethel were innocent of spying on their country and were victims of Cold War paranoia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, much information concerning them was declassified, including a trove of decoded Soviet cables (code-name: Venona), which detailed Julius’s role as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. Ethel’s role was as an accessory who helped recruit her brother David into the spy ring and she worked in a secretarial manner typing up documents for her husband that were given to the Soviets. In 2008, the National Archives of the United States published most of the grand jury testimony related to the prosecution of the Rosenbergs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Black Maria, Oakland' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Black Maria, Oakland
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 9 13/16″ (27.9 × 24.9cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times. 'Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber's Chair' October 25, 1957

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times
Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber’s Chair
October 25, 1957
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 × 8 7/16″ (19.4 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 The New York Times

 

 

Umberto “Albert” Anastasia (1902-1957) was an Italian-American mobster, hitman, and crime boss. One of the founders of the modern American Mafia and a co-founder and later boss of the Murder, Inc. criminal collective, Anastasia eventually rose to the position of boss in what became the modern Gambino crime family. He was also in control of the New York waterfront for most of his criminal career, including the dockworker unions. He was murdered on October 25, 1957, on the orders of Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino; Gambino subsequently became boss of the family.

Anastasia was one of the most ruthless and feared organised crime figures in American history; his reputation earned him the nicknames “The One-Man Army”, “Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner”. …

 

Assassination

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving him unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber’s chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia reportedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing until Anastasia finally fell dead on the floor.

The Anastasia homicide generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high-profile police investigation. Per The New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory”. However, no one was charged in the case. Speculation on who killed Anastasia has centred on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers within the Gambino family. Initially, the NYPD concluded that Anastasia’s homicide had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino and that it was carried out by a crew led by Gallo. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit, “You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet”. Elsewhere, Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L. S. Patriarca.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives. It is marked “Anastasio”. In 1958, his family emigrated to Canada, and changed the name to “Anisio”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas' 1967-69

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas
1967-69
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14″ (28 × 35.6cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Hunter
© 2021 Danny Lyon

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company. "Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts" July 19, 1969

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company
“Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts”
July 19, 1969
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 × 9 15/16″ (17.3 × 25.2cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 John Hubbard/Black Star Publishing Co.

 

 

The Chappaquiddick incident (popularly known as Chappaquiddick) was a single-vehicle car crash that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts some time around midnight between Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19, 1969. The crash was caused by Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy’s negligence and resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.

Kennedy left a party on Chappaquiddick at 11:15 p.m. Friday, with Kopechne. He maintained his intent was to immediately take Kopechne to a ferry landing and return to Edgartown, but that he accidentally made a wrong turn onto a dirt road leading to a one-lane bridge. After his car skidded off the bridge into Poucha Pond, Kennedy swam free, and maintained he tried to rescue Kopechne from the submerged car, but he could not. Kopechne’s death could have happened any time between about 11:30 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, as an off-duty deputy sheriff maintained he saw a car matching Kennedy’s at 12:40 a.m. Kennedy left the scene and did not report the crash to police until after 10 a.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, a diver recovered Kopechne’s body from Kennedy’s car shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday.

At a July 25, 1969, court hearing, Kennedy pled guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. In a televised statement that same evening, he said his conduct immediately after the crash “made no sense to me at all”, and that he regarded his failure to report the crash immediately as “indefensible”. A January 5, 1970, judicial inquest concluded Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to take the ferry, and that Kennedy intentionally turned toward the bridge, operating his vehicle negligently, if not recklessly, at too high a rate of speed for the hazard which the bridge posed in the dark. The judge stopped short of recommending charges, and a grand jury convened on April 6, 1970, returning no indictments. On May 27, 1970, a Registry of Motor Vehicles hearing resulted in Kennedy’s driver’s license being suspended for a total of sixteen months after the crash.

The Chappaquiddick incident became national news that influenced Kennedy’s decision not to run for President in 1972 and 1976, and it was said to have undermined his chances of ever becoming President. Kennedy ultimately decided to enter the 1980 Democratic Party presidential primaries, but earned only 37.6% of the vote and lost the nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment' 1972

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 23 9/16″ (39.7 × 59.8cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.
© 2021 Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos

 

 

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09
Mar
19

Exhibition: ’68. Pop and Protest’ at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2018 – 17th March 2019

Artists: Eero Aarnio | Jefferson Airplane | Michelangelo Antonioni | Richard Avedon | Günter Beltzig | Wolf Biermann | Big Brother and the Holding Company | Roman Brodmann | Pierre Cardin | Joe Colombo | Gerd Conradt | André Courrèges | Harun Farocki | Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Peter Handke | Haus-Rucker-Co | Jimi Hendrix | Helmut Herbst | Dennis Hopper | Theo Gallehr | Rudi Gernreich | Jean-Luc Godard | Gerhard von Graevenitz | F.C. Gundlach | Jasper Johns | Günther Kieser | Alexander Kluge | Yves Saint Laurent | Scott McKenzie | Egon Monk | Werner Nekes & Dore O. | Verner Panton | D.A. Pennebaker | Gaetano Pesce | Rosa von Praunheim | Paco Rabanne | Otis Redding | Kurt Rosenthal | Helke Sander | Ettore Sottsass | The Mamas & the Papas | The Who | Thomas Struck | Bernd Upnmoor | Roger Vadim | Valie Export | Agnès Varda | Wolf Vostell | Andy Warhol | Peter Weiss | Hans-Jürgen Wendt | Charles Wilp et al.

 

 

 

 

1968: the year that changed the world through radical action

From a posting about one revolutionary year in the 20th century (1918/19), we move 50 years in time to a another revolutionary year in that century: 1968.

I had wanted to do a posting on this exhibition and the 1968: Changing Times exhibition at the National Library of Australia (1st March 2018 – 12th August 2018) to compare and contrast what was happening in Australia and around the world in this most revolutionary year. But the six crappy press images that the National Library of Australia supplied were not worthy of a posting. Australian galleries in general and those in Canberra more particularly (I’m talking about you National Gallery of Australia!), really need to lift their game supplying media images. They are way behind the times in terms of understanding the importance of good media images to independent writers and critics.

In Australia, Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared in the surf at Cheviot Beach, Victoria, presumed drowned in December 1967. A new prime minister, John Gorton, was sworn in in January 1968. Australians were dying in greater numbers in Vietnam; Aboriginal land rights issues vexed the Australian cabinet; and the White Australia policy of Old Australia, soon to be swept away in 1973, was still in full force. “Billy Snedden, the Minister for Immigration, said that Australians, and certainly the government, did not want a multiracial society. Sir Horace Petty, the Victorian Agent-General in London, explained that ‘the trouble comes when a black man marries a white woman. No one worries if a white man is silly enough to marry a black woman’.” (Text from the National Archives of Australia website)

Around the world, 1968 seemed to be the year where all the stars aligned in terms of protest against hegemonic masculinity, racism, war and social inequality.

  1. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr (civil rights movement) and Robert F. Kennedy (engagement with youth, social change, civil rights) shocked the world. Race riots rock America including the Orangeburg massacre, and riots in Baltimore, Washington, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Miami. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968
  2. The frustrations of youth boiled over in the Paris student riots of 1968 (protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions, values and order), leading to a “volatile period of civil unrest in France during May 1968 was punctuated by demonstrations and major general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France”
  3. The Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1968 called for revolutionary committees to be established to help preserve the ideological purity of the Chinese Revolution
  4. Muhammad Ali toured American student campuses giving hundreds of anti-Vietnam war speeches; protestors massed outside the White House at all hours. Eventually 4 students were killed at the Kent State Shootings by the U.S. National Guard during a demonstration on 4 May 1970
  5. A Viet Cong officer named Nguyễn Văn Lém is executed by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. The event is photographed by Eddie Adams (Saigon Execution (General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon). The photo makes headlines around the world, eventually winning the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, and sways U.S. public opinion against the war
  6. The Polish 1968 political crisis, also known in Poland as March 1968 or March events pertains to a series of major student, intellectual and other protests against the government of the Polish People’s Republic. Student protests also start in Belgrade, Yugoslavia
  7. The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalisation and mass protest in Czechoslovakia as a Communist state after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), and continued until 21 August 1968, when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to suppress the reforms during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia
  8. In the following year, the Stonewall riots took place, a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States, the official starting point of gay liberation, a movement that had been building momentum since the 1950s

.
(R)evolution was in the air.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Paris Riots (1968)

 

Günter Zint (German, b. 1941) 'Berlin, 1968 (Class struggle demonstration APO)'

 

Günter Zint (German, b. 1941)
Berlin, 1968 (Class struggle demonstration APO)
Silver gelatin print
© Panfoto, Hamburg

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941) 'Hamburg, 1968'

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941)
Hamburg, 1968
Silver gelatin print
© Panfoto, Hamburg

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941) 'Paris, 1968 (Horst Wolf on car)'

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941)
Paris, 1968 (Horst Wolf on car)
Silver gelatin print
© Panfoto, Hamburg

 

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (West German, 1945-1982) 'Katzelmacher' 1969 (still)

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (West German, 1945-1982)
Katzelmacher (film still)
1969
Scene with Hanna Schygulla, Hans Hirschmüller, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Lilith Ungerer and Hannes Gromball
Black and white film, 88 min.
© RWFF Fotoarchiv

 

 

Katzelmacher is a 1969 West German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The film centres on an aimless group of friends whose lives are shaken up by the arrival of an immigrant Greek worker, Jorgos (played by Fassbinder himself, in an uncredited role).

In this unflinching German drama by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a group of young slackers, including the couple Erich (Hans Hirschmuller) and Marie (Hanna Schygulla), spend most of their time hanging out in front of a Munich apartment building. When a Greek immigrant named Jorgos (played by Fassbinder), moves in, however, their aimless lives are shaken up. Soon new tensions arise both within the group and with Jorgos, particularly when Marie threatens to leave Erich for the outsider.

 

 

Trailer for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1969 film Katzelmacher

 

 

The exhibition 68. Pop and Protest brings together all the defining pictures, movies, texts and sounds of this era forming a complex atmospheric picture. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) will display about 200 objects including music installations, fashion, movies, photos, posters, design objects, historical documents and spatial ensembles such as Verner Panton’s Spiegel canteen, which show what moved and motivated people in 1968 – in Hamburg, Germany and the rest of the world: awareness of their own rights, and the possibility to advocate their opinions publically through protest and revolt. The year 1968 is shaken by dramatic events which lead to protests, and promote revolutionary ideas. At the same time, a global cultural revolution is initiated that imaginatively revolts against conservative authoritarian structures, propagates sexual freedom, and demands equality for all people. Various avant-garde forms of expression in all artistic departments are the non-violent weapons of the time: progressive music, unconventional styles, bold designs, contentious theatre, and socio-critical cinema d’auteur. Furthermore, there is an unprecedented desire for critical discourse, public discussion, and civil disobedience. A common thread is hope; hope that the world will turn into a fairer place, that society will get more just, and that people will become better; hope that political suppression will stop, that borders will be overcome, walls will get torn down, and that sexuality will be non-exploitative. It is more important than ever to once again consolidate these ideas of freedom and self-determination in our collective memory. Current events show that central aspects of a free and democratic way of life are at stake (again): individual development of the self, fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, democratic participation, and first and foremost open-mindedness towards what and whom we don’t know.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg [Online] Cited 11/02/2019

 

Ronald Traeger (1936-1968) 'Twiggy' June 1966

 

Ronald Traeger (American, 1936-1968)
Twiggy
June 1966
© Tessa Traeger

 

 

Fashion as a statement

When maladjusted outfits become consumer society, materialism and conventionality are put to the test. After short time, the looks can be found in the department stores: the protest mode is moving from subculture to mainstream. In haute couture, designs are related to the changing society set, in which gender assignments stumble and a relaxed handling of physicality and sexuality is propagated.

 

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

 

Installation views of the exhibition 68. Pop and Protest at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)
Photos: Michaela Hille

 

 

The exhibition 68. Pop and Protest brings together all the defining pictures, movies, texts and sounds of this era forming a complex atmospheric picture. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) will display about 200 objects including music installations, fashion, movies, photos, posters, design objects, historical documents and spatial ensembles such as Verner Panton’s Spiegel canteen, which show what moved and motivated people in 1968 – in Hamburg, Germany and the rest of the world: awareness of their own rights, and the possibility to advocate their opinions publically through protest and revolt. The year 1968 is shaken by dramatic events which lead to protests, and promote revolutionary ideas. At the same time, a global cultural revolution is initiated that imaginatively revolts against conservative authoritarian structures, propagates sexual freedom, and demands equality for all people. Various avant-garde forms of expression in all artistic departments are the non-violent weapons of the time: progressive music, unconventional styles, bold designs, contentious theatre, and socio-critical cinema d’auteur. Furthermore, there is an unprecedented desire for critical discourse, public discussion, and civil disobedience. A common thread is hope; hope that the world will turn into a fairer place, that society will get more just, and that people will become better; hope that political suppression will stop, that borders will be overcome, walls will get torn down, and that sexuality will be non-exploitative. It is more important than ever to once again consolidate these ideas of freedom and self-determination in our collective memory. Current events show that central aspects of a free and democratic way of life are at stake (again): individual development of the self, fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, democratic participation, and first and foremost open-mindedness towards what and whom we don’t know.

 

Atelier Populaire. 'La base continue le combat' 1968

 

Atelier Populaire
La base continue le combat
1968
Silk screen
65.4 x 50 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

La révolution est dans la rue – The revolution is on the street

In 1968, France is experiencing serious unrest, with a general strike. In the democratically organised Atelier Populaire, rehearsing artists and workers have productive co-operation: hundreds of protest motifs are printed in their thousands as posters, which create and shape the Parisian cityscape. La beauté est dans la rue – not only the revolution, but also the beauty of the road reached.

 

Gert Wiescher (German, b. 1944) 'Che Guevara' 1968

 

Gert Wiescher (German, b. 1944)
Che Guevara
1968
Offset print
86 x 61 cm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

 

 

Straße als Massenmedium – Street as Mass Medium

Public space becomes a central place of expression, the protesters getting their messages to the mass media and conveyed to the general public. But strong pictures are needed: the political actions offer in their skilful staging, great visual attraction potential. All means of expression unites an understanding of democracy, the current rules and power structures in the (media) public, performatively questioned.

 

Street as Mass Medium

In May 1968, France experiences severe riots. Students and workers take a stand for mutual political demands for reforms as well as for cries for international solidarity which leads to a “wild general strike”: They occupy factories and public facilities such as faculties of Paris’ art college Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The printing workshop is opened as an Atelier Populaire to give everyone the chance to publically express their own views by creating posters. Artists and workers productively collaborate in this democratically structured space: the community collectively consults about how the protest messages should look like, and everyone can be a printer. Within a few weeks, hundreds of protest pictures – printed thousand fold – are spread across the city and can be seen everywhere. Universities are breeding grounds for protests; this is also true for the Federal Republic of Germany. Here, students discuss controversial opinions in an academic discourse, and organise resistance. In the light of global protests against the Vietnam War and Western economic colonialism, they express basic criticism of the political landscape. Their criticism also addresses education policy, elitist structures, emergency laws, and the German media landscape. The street is the place for the non-parliamentary opposition to utter their opinions. In the fight for political recognition and public attention, performative actions are more and more successful. Sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, happenings and demonstrations offer creative provocation, and civil disobedience in combination with well-known forms of protest such as flyers and posters, all of which arouses high visual sensations and great media response. These different forms of action range from giving out paper bags with caricatures depicting the ruling Persian couple, which Kommune 1 does in 1967 at a demonstration against their visit in Berlin, to the famous banner saying “Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren” (“underneath their robes – fustiness of a thousand years”), with which undergraduates demand university reforms on the 9th November in 1967 at the University of Hamburg; these protests also include knocking down the monument of colonial civil servant Hermann von Wissmann in Hamburg as a statement against the “ongoing exploitation of the Third World.”

 

Manfred Sohr. 'Rektoratswechsel im Audimax der Universität Hamburg' Change of rectorate in the main auditorium of the University of Hamburg 1967

 

Manfred Sohr
Rektoratswechsel im Audimax der Universität Hamburg
Change of rectorate in the main auditorium of the University of Hamburg
“Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren” (“underneath their robes – fustiness of a thousand years”)

1967
Photographic agency Conti-Press
© Staatsarchiv Hamburg

 

 

Die Wahrheit ist radikal – The truth is radical

The universities are the germ cells of the protest: right and left groups claim the opinion of (academic) youth and the interests of society for themselves. Each as truth, propagated views are sometimes radically represented. In the fight for attention and political perception, actions are used that are between creation and provocation and cause civil disobedience.

 

Rainer Hachfeld (German, b. 1939) Distribution: Kommune 1 Karikatur / caricature: 'Schah-Masken (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Farah Pahlavi) / Shah masks' 1967

Rainer Hachfeld (German, b. 1939) Distribution: Kommune 1 Karikatur / caricature: 'Schah-Masken (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Farah Pahlavi) / Shah masks' 1967

 

Rainer Hachfeld (German, b. 1939)
Distribution: Kommune 1
Karikatur / caricature: Schah-Masken (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Farah Pahlavi) / Shah masks
1967
Paper
Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung
Photo: MKG

 

 

Harun Farocki (German, 1944-2014)
Die Worte des Vorsitzenden (The words of the chairman)
1967
Black and White film
16mm, 3 min.
© Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin

 

Harun Farocki (1944-2014) 'Die Worte des Vorsitzenden' (The words of the chairman) (videostill) 1967

 

Harun Farocki (German, 1944-2014)
Die Worte des Vorsitzenden (The words of the chairman) (videostill)
1967
Black and White film
16mm, 3 min.
© Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin

 

Diana Davies (American, b. 1938) 'Protestor at Weinstein Hall demonstration for the rights of gay people on campus' 1970

 

Diana Davies (American, b. 1938)
Protestor at Weinstein Hall demonstration for the rights of gay people on campus
1970
Silver gelatin print
Diana Davies, The New York Public Library Digital Collections
© Diana Davies

 

 

Power to the people

The social discourse is characterised by civil rights movements, including feminist groups, the gay movement and the Civil Rights Movement of the African American population in the US. Racism, intolerance and discrimination are systematically and openly denounced. The means of protest range from demonstrations and information campaigns about civil disobedience to partly artistic, partly militant actions up to armed resistance.

 

Talking ’bout my Generation

In the 1960s, a pop revolution conquers the Western hemisphere, starting in Great Britain and the USA which conclusively establishes rock music as a generation-defining phenomenon and expression of an international way of life. This marks a paradigm shift in entertainment music that defines rock and pop as an essential part of youth and subculture with an existential identity-establishing function. For adolescents, English music also means separating themselves from the generation of their parents and the (fake) bourgeois Schlager music idyll. In only a short time, bands rise from playing in underground clubs to performing on big stages. One of the reasons is the growing festival scene that starts in 1967 with the Monterey Pop Festival and peaks in 1969 with Woodstock. The exhibition will feature the concert movie Monterey Pop that shows ground breaking performances by Jimi Hendrix, as he sets his guitar on fire, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Mamas & the Papas and more, which will give visitors the chance to dive into the festival atmosphere of the time. Concert posters, record covers and audio stations with the most famous songs bring the world of 68 to life. Already established musical genres are mixed, psychedelic rock captures the hippies‘ drug influenced style of life, experimental arrangements and instrumentation produce completely new electronically amplified and distorted sounds. Records are conceptualised as complete art works. As a consequence, a visual cross-media language evolves that includes psychedelic poster or album cover designs and extravagant style presentations of the rock stars themselves. Pop culture becomes the international language of an entire generation.

 

D.A. Pennebaker (American, b. 1925) 'Monterey Pop' (filmstill) 1968

 

D.A. Pennebaker (American, b. 1925)
Monterey Pop (filmstill)
1968
16mm
© 1982 Pennebaker Hegedus Films, Inc. and The Monterey International Pop Festival, Inc.

 

 

Talking ’bout my generation

Rock music finally establishes itself as generation-determining phenomenon and an expression of an international lifestyle. This is accompanied by a cross-media visual language, from psychedelic poster and cover design to extravagant fashion staging of the rock stars. Pop Culture becomes the international language of a whole generation, that is in turn incorporated by the cultural industry.

 

 

Monterey Pop Official Trailer

 

The Monterey Pop Festival ran for three days in June 1967. For most of the five shows, the arena was jammed to bursting with perhaps as many as 10,000 people. The live performances were spectacularly successful. Janis Joplin, who was singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company, pulled out all the stops with a raw, powerful performance that helped establish her as the preeminent female rock singer of her day.

The Who climaxed a brilliant set by smashing their equipment at the conclusion of “My Generation”. Jimi Hendrix (in the American debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) offered an awesome display of his virtuosity as a guitarist and as a showman, humping his Marshall amplifiers and then setting his Stratocaster ablaze. Another highlight was Ravi Shankar’s meditative afternoon of Indian ragas. And then there was Otis Redding, the dynamic soul man turned in what many present believe was the festival’s best performance. ABC offered $400,000 for network rights to Pennebaker’s film (which was released in theatres after ABC decided it was too far out for the TV audience).

 

Günther Kieser (German, b. 1930) 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' 1969

 

Günther Kieser (German, b. 1930)
Jimi Hendrix Experience
1969
Offset print
118,9 x 84,1 cm
Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Günther Kieser

 

 

Stages of Revolt

The performing arts are said to have a great political clout, and the stage becomes the place for social debates. Classical plays are reviewed regarding its political messages, and newly written plays accuse the bourgeois establishment. The shrine-like status of museums is challenged by wearing jeans to openings, no evening dresses, no champagne. The theatre leaves established institutions behind; companies are formed that take their messages to the streets. They no longer respect the division between actor/actress and spectator, exaggerated in Peter Handke’s Publikumsbeschimpfung (1966, Offending the Audience), or in Hans Werner Henze’s oratory Floß der Medusa (The raft of the Medusa) in which he criticises “the authority of humans over humans”. For its premiere with the NDR radio symphony orchestra, Henze puts a portrait of Che Guevara and a red flag on stage. Actors/actresses exit erratically, there is tumult, cries for Ho Chi Minh, an overwhelming police presence, and arrests – the show is stopped eventually. Art and life merge into each other, as can be seen in collectives like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s antiteater in Munich. Such creative communities see themselves as antitheses to the middle-class, which could never give birth to any relevant art, because of its saturated complacency.

 

Filmstill from 'Publikumsbeschimpfung', premiere in Frankfurt am Main, 1966

 

Filmstill from Publikumsbeschimpfung, premiere in Frankfurt am Main, 1966
Director: Claus Peymann , Aufzeichnung des HR

 

 

Bühnen der Revolte – Stages of revolt

The performing arts have major political clout and the stage becomes more about sociable Debates. The theatre leaves the institution, new pieces emerge and bring charges against the educated middle class Establishment. The border between actor and spectator is no longer respected, the audience is called to action. Art and life merge into collectives like Fassbinders antiteater and Steins Schaubühne.

 

 

Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience)
A speech piece by Peter Handke
World premiere in the Frankfurt Theater am Turm 1966
Director: Claus Peymann

 

 

Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)
Das Floß der Medusa (1968)
The Raft of the Frigate “Medusa”

 

 

Abschied von gestern (Yesterday Girl), Alexander Kluge, 1966

 

 

The Old Film is Dead

In 1962, a young generation of filmmakers demands the aesthetic, thematic and economical reorientation of the German cinematic landscape, as expressed in their Oberhausener Manifest. The economic crisis of the film industry in the 1960s and international innovative movements like the Nouvelle Vague, lead them to clearly distance themselves from both the NS history and sentimental films with regional background (Heimatfilm) as well as the Karl May and Edgar Wallace franchise and the like. The 26 signers seek intellectual liberation through radically turning to film d’auteur and to independent productions apart from already established studio business. These filmmakers reject the conventional uplifting entertainment conventions of the time, and like to provoke the audience – impressively shown in Alexander Kluge’s Abschied von gestern (Yesterday Girl). Thus, the critical avant-garde of the Neuer Deutscher Film, including the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and others, is internationally successful. In 1967, in the wake of the American experimental and underground cinema, the Hamburger Filmmacher Cooperative is founded. Without any state funding or need to submit to corporate profit values, the partly autodidactic filmmakers realize unconventional projects, distribute them through their independent network, and establish their own public sphere of the Andere Kino (Other Cinema) with their several days long film-ins. Inexpensive substandard films and super 8 cameras forward a vital underground scene, which primarily produces short films that fathom the dividing lines between visual arts and filmic experiments.

 

Alexander Kluge (German, b. 1932) 'Abschied von gestern' (Yesterday Girl) (videostill) 1966

 

Alexander Kluge (German, b. 1932)
Abschied von gestern (Yesterday Girl) (videostill)
1966
Black and White film, 88 min.
Courtesy/Copyright: Alexander Kluge

 

 

Der alte Film ist tot – The old film is dead

1962 calls a young generation of filmmakers with the Oberhausen Manifesto the aesthetic, content and economic realignment of German film. The collective project borders on the Nazi-film-burdened past and the presence marked by Heimatfilm. Many of the films refuse entertainment conventions, but provoke the emotional and sociopolitical reflection in the audience.

 

Gerd Conradt (b. 1941) 'Farbtest - Rote Fahne' (Colour test - Red Flag) (videostill) 1968

 

Gerd Conradt (b. 1941)
Farbtest – Rote Fahne (Colour test – Red Flag) (videostill)
1968
Colour film 16 mm, 12 min.
© Gerd Conradt, Mandala Vision

 

Gerd Conradt (born May 14, 1941 in Schwiebus) is a German cameraman, director, author and lecturer in video practice. His films and video programs are mostly portraits – conceptually designed time pictures, often as long-term documentaries.

 

Werner Nekes (German, 1944-2017), Dore O. (German, b. 1946) 'Jüm Jüm' (videostill) 1967

 

Werner Nekes (German, 1944-2017), Dore O. (German, b. 1946)
Jüm Jüm (videostill)
1967
Experimental film
© Ursula Richert-Nekes

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (German, 1945-1982) 'Katzelmacher' 1969

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (German, 1945-1982)
Katzelmacher
1969
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla
Black and White film, 88 min.
© RWFF Fotoarchiv

 

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Katzelmacher 1969 trailer

 

Valie Export (Austrian, b. 1940) 'Tapp und Tastkino' / 'Tap and Touch Cinema' (detail) 1968

 

Valie Export (Austrian, b. 1940)
Tapp und Tastkino / Tap and Touch Cinema (detail)
1968
© sixpackfilm

 

 

“As usual, the film is ‘shown’ in the dark. But the cinema has shrunk somewhat – only two hands fit inside it. To see (i.e. feel, touch) the film, the viewer (user) has to stretch his hands through the entrance to the cinema. At last, the curtain which formerly rose only for the eyes now rises for both hands. The tactile reception is the opposite of the deceit of voyeurism. For as long as the citizen is satisfied with the reproduced copy of sexual freedom, the state is spared the sexual revolution. Tap and Touch Cinema is an example of how re-interpretation can activate the public.”

Valie Export

.
This outdoor action on Munich’s Stachus square translates the concept of expanded cinema and the cinema’s fairground roots into the ‘first immediate women’s film’, as the artist describes her ‘Tap and Touch Cinema’. ‘Public’ accessibility – restricted to 30 seconds per person – is noisily proclaimed by Peter Weibel. A direct demonstration of cinema as a projection space for male fantasies, this still ironic transgression of the border between art and life is an early indication of Valie Export’s often risky, but always resolute, deployment of her own body in later works.

Text by Martina Boero from the YouTube website

 

At age twenty-eight, Waltraud Hollinger changed her name to VALIE EXPORT, in all uppercase letters, to announce her presence in the Viennese art scene. Eager to counter the male-dominated group of artists known as the Vienna Actionists including Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler she sought a new identity that was not bound by her father’s name (Lehner) or her former husband’s name (Hollinger). Export was the name of a popular cigarette brand. This act of provocation would characterise her future performances, especially TAPP und TASTKINO (TOUCH and TAP Cinema) and Aktionhose: Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic). Challenging the public to engage with a real woman instead of with images on a screen, in these works she illustrated her notion of “expanded cinema,” in which film is produced without celluloid; instead the artist’s body activates the live context of watching. Born of the 1968 revolt against modern consumer and technical society, her defiant feminist action was memorialised in a picture taken the following year by the photographer Peter Hassmann in Vienna. VALIE EXPORT had the image screen printed in a large edition and fly-posted it in public spaces.

Text from the MoMA website, gallery label from Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980, September 5, 2015 – January 3, 2016 [Online] Cited 12/02/2019

 

F.C. Gundlach (German, b. 1926) 'Grace Coddington wearing red blouse and mini skirt by Missoni' 1969

 

F.C. Gundlach (German, b. 1926)
Grace Coddington wearing red blouse and mini skirt by Missoni
1969
Cibachrome
50.1 x 38.8 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© F.C. Gundlach

 

 

Mündig und mobil – Of age and mobile

The design scene responds to the urge for freedom with a colourful drive during 1968. Right angles, hard edges and solid colour do not fit the modern attitude to life. Individual home accessories solve the interior design problem, from the assembly line. Furniture is no longer made for eternity; uncomplicated and practical is the new design ethos and above all, it is mobile. Design is no longer used for status determination; this also applies to fashion. Originality is more important than noble material and refined cuts.

 

 

Fashion as a Statement

The different clothing styles of the generation of 1968 express more than a mere taste of fashion. Fashion becomes a political statement. Elements of hippie and ethnic looks, pieces of uniforms, or uncommon revealing styles challenge society’s conventions. In many families, the generation conflict shows itself in arguments about the mini skirt, ascribed to fashion designer Mary Quant. While parents are worried about indecent provocation and for their daughters to carelessly sexualise themselves, for adolescents, the mini skirt expresses their desire for autonomy and a form-fitting style of clothes. Soon, these outfits can also be found in the shop windows of department stores: Protest fashion finds its way from subculture into mainstream. Originally designed as a promotional tool for the paper industry, the paper dress achieves an enthusiastic success in 1966 in the USA and Europe. Women’s magazines distribute these inexpensive A-line mini dresses which are used as a vehicle for advertising in electoral campaigns throughout the USA in 1968. Designed as Poster Dresses by graphic designer Harry Gordon, they represent the new and fast-paced fashion world showing the growing impact of pop art and pop culture. All-over prints range from everyday motifs to poems by leftist writer Allen Ginsberg, and even the portrait of Bob Dylan – the voice of a young critically thinking generation. The fashion avant-garde is interested in the social function of fashion and its normative effects. Designs such as the business pants suit for women by Yves Saint Laurent and Rudi Gernreich’s unisex bathing suit reflect a changing society, question gender norms, and propagate a free approach to body and sexuality.

 

Paper Dress "Campaign Dress" 1966-68

 

Paper Dress “Campaign Dress”
1966-68
Cellulose/Nylon non-woven
Acquired with funds of the Campe’schen Historischen Stiftung
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Paper Dress "Big Ones for 68" 1966-68

 

Paper Dress “Big Ones for 68”
1966-68
Cellulose/Nylon non-woven
Acquired with funds of the Campe’schen Historischen Stiftung
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Paper Dress 1966-68

 

Paper Dress
1966-68
Cellulose/Nylon non-woven
Acquired with funds of the Campe’schen Historischen Stiftung
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Art: Up against the Wall!

Global mass protests also mobilise visual artists. Andy Warhol, Wolf Vostell, Jasper Johns and others use posters, the artistic mass medium of the time, to criticise world events. Their poster aesthetics reflect contemporary artistic trends such as pop art and Fluxus, drawing on an unlimited repertoire of forms of expression: They use montages, collages, photography and xylography; a multifacetedness that matches their diverse voices and their political agendas.

 

Wolf Vostell (German, 1932-1998) 'Umfunktionierungen' (Reinterpretations) 1969

 

Wolf Vostell (German, 1932-1998)
Umfunktionierungen (Reinterpretations)
1969
Offset printing
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

 

 

Art: up against the wall!

The political trouble spots find global resonance and motivate prominent artists to political opinions. Posters, the artistic mass medium of the time, articulate a critical attitude. The aesthetics includes different expressions: from montages and collages via photographic cut-up to woodcut techniques. This multifariousness, artistic practice corresponds to the polyphony of the actors and their political concerns.

 

Wolf Vostell

Wolf Vostell (14 October 1932 – 3 April 1998) was a German painter and sculptor, considered one of the early adopters of video art and installation art and pioneer of Happening and Fluxus. Techniques such as blurring and Dé-coll/age are characteristic of his work, as is embedding objects in concrete and the use of television sets in his works.

Wolf Vostell was born in Leverkusen, Germany, and put his artistic ideas into practice from 1950 onwards. In 1953, he began an apprenticeship as a lithographer and studied at the Academy of Applied Art in Wuppertal. Vostell created his first Dé-collage in 1954. In 1955-1956, he studied at the École Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts in Paris and in 1957 he attended the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts. Vostell’s philosophy was built around the idea that destruction is all around us and it runs through all of the twentieth century. He used the term Dé-coll/age, (in connection with a plane crash) in 1954 to refer to the process of tearing down posters, and for the use of mobile fragments of reality. Vostell’s working concept of décollage is as a visual force that breaks down outworn values and replaces them with thinking as a function distanced from media.

His first Happening, Theater is in the Street, took place in Paris in 1958, and incorporated auto parts and a TV. In 1958, he took part in the first European Happening in Paris and he produced his first objects with television sets and car parts. He was impressed by the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, which he encountered in 1964 in the electronic studios of the German radio station WDR, and in 1959 he created his electronic TV Dé-coll/age. It marked the beginning of his dedication to the Fluxus Movement, which he co-founded in the early 1960s. Vostell was behind many Happenings in New York, Berlin, Cologne, Wuppertal and Ulm among others. In 1962, he participated in the Festum Fluxorum, an international event in Wiesbaden together with Nam June Paik, George Maciunas. In 1963 Wolf Vostell became a pioneer of Video art and Installation with his work 6 TV Dé-coll/age shown at the Smolin Gallery in New York, and now in the collection of the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. The Smolin Gallery sponsored two innovative Wolf Vostell events on TV; the first, Wolf Vostell and Television Decollage, featured visitors to the gallery who were encouraged to create poster art on the walls. In 1967 his Happening Miss Vietnam dealt with the subject of the Vietnam war. In 1968, he founded Labor e.V., a group that was to investigate acoustic and visual events, together with Mauricio Kagel, and others.

Wolf Vostell was the first artist in art history to integrate a television set into a work of art. This installation was created in 1958 under the title The black room is now part of the collection of the art museum Berlinische Galerie in Berlin. Early works with television sets are Transmigracion I-III from 1958 and Elektronischer Dé-coll/age Happening Raum (Electronic Dé-coll/age Happening Room) an Installation from 1968.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wes Wilson (b. 1937) 'Jefferson Airplane... at the Fillmore' 1966

 

Wes Wilson (American, b. 1937)
Jefferson Airplane… at the Fillmore
1966
Offset Print
56 x 35.5 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Wes Wilson

 

 

Wes Wilson (born July 15, 1937) is an American artist and one of the leading designers of psychedelic posters. Best known for designing posters for Bill Graham of The Fillmore in San Francisco, he invented a style that is now synonymous with the peace movement, psychedelic era and the 1960s. In particular, he is known for inventing and popularising a “psychedelic” font around 1966 that made the letters look like they were moving or melting. His style was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement. Wilson is considered to be one of “The Big Five” San Francisco poster artists, along with Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and Stanley Mouse. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Günter Beltzig (German designer, b. 1941) Brüder Beltzig, Wuppertal (manufacturer) 'Floris' 1967

 

Günter Beltzig (German designer, b. 1941)
Brüder Beltzig, Wuppertal (manufacturer)
Floris
1967
Polyester
Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

The international design avant-garde aspires to revolutionise the established Bauhaus guiding principle “form follows function”. The spirit of departure and the desire for creative innovation characterise the new generation of designers, often in artistic collective works. Nothing is more wrong than a standstill. Some seating furniture almost appears as socio-political statement and proverbially shows a new attitude. Form now follows the idea.

 

 

Form follows idea

In the 1960s, the international design avant-garde strives towards an opposition to the so far prevalent Bauhaus dogma “form follows function”. This new generation oftentimes works in artistic collectives with passion for creative innovation. Objects to sit on should no longer mean that people are forced into an unnatural posture, it is rather the furniture such as the slack beanbag chair Sacco by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro, or the unconventional chair Floris by Günter Beltzig that should adapt to forms and needs of people. These new approaches in product design show ideas and a new attitude towards life of a nonconformist, dynamic and critical generation. Some seating furniture seems to be a downright socio-political statement that proverbially presents a new stance. Now, form follows idea. In 1968, the publishing house Spiegel entrusts Danish architect and designer Verner Panton with the design of the interior of their new building in Hamburg. For every story, he uses a different colour of the rainbow, consistently designing everything in one tone – from the colour of the wall to the ashtray – and creates a pop art icon. In the course of the years, the colours of the offices get whitewashed. Only the red-orange-purple Spiegel canteen has survived unaltered, since 2011 it is located in the MKG as a Period Room.

 

Joe Colombo (designer) (Italian, 1930-1971) 'Elda' 1963/64

 

Joe Colombo (designer) (Italian, 1930-1971)
Elda
1963/64
Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg

 

Günter F. Ris (designer) (German, 1928-2005) and Herbert Selldorf (designer) (1929-2012) Rosenthal Möbel (manufacturer) 'Armchair "Sunball"' 1969-1971

 

Günter F. Ris (designer) (German, 1928-2005) and Herbert Selldorf (designer) (1929-2012)
Rosenthal Möbel (manufacturer)
Armchair “Sunball”
1969-1971
Polyester, Aluminium, polyurethane foam, cotton cord, synthetics
Property of the Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen
Photo: Hersteller

 

Gaetano Pesce (designer) (Italian, b. 1939) Fa. Cassina and Busnelli (manufacturer) 'Armchair Donna UP5 with Bambino UP6' 1969

 

Gaetano Pesce (designer) (Italian, b. 1939)
Fa. Cassina and Busnelli (manufacturer)
Armchair Donna UP5 with Bambino UP6
1969
Polyurethane foam and Nylon-jersey
Photo: Hersteller

 

Piero Gatti (designer) (Italian, b. 1940) Cesare Paolini (Italian, b. 1937) and Franco Teodoro (Italian, b. 1939) Fa. Zanotta, Milan (manufacturer) 'Italien Sacco' 1968

 

Piero Gatti (designer) (Italian, b. 1940) Cesare Paolini (Italian, b. 1937) and Franco Teodoro (Italian, b. 1939)
Fa. Zanotta, Milan (manufacturer)
Italien Sacco
1968
PVC and Polystyrene
Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Between Consumption Binge and Space Age

While in the 1950s in the beginning of the Miracle on the Rhine, it was most important for the population to cover the basic needs, the following decades are characterised by a consumption binge. Growing prosperity and a rapidly expanding choice of goods increases the desire for more and more consumer items and luxuries. Changing life styles challenge the commodity producing and the advertising industry. Zeitgeist aspects such as mobility, belief in progress, emancipation, individualism, and cult of the body gain in importance, also in terms of consumer behaviour. Desires are pre-formulated by an advertising industry which has a broad audience across all media with its TV ads, press advertising, and poster campaigns. They draw a picture of a hedonistic society between materialism and alleged expansion of consciousness that ultimately combines lifestyle aspects of youth culture with contemporary product design. Advertisements for items such as Afri-Cola or the Astro-Lavalampe (Astro lava lamp) by Edward Craven-Walker promise ecstatic sensory impressions without the use of drugs. The lava lamp, inspired by the science fiction movie Barbarella, becomes a popular accessory in clubs and living rooms; and to this day, it is representative for the psychedelic look of the time.

The 1960s are characterised by technophilia and optimistic belief in progress. The “Race to the Moon” is a battle between the political system of the United States of America and communist Russia. The era of space travel influences futuristic aesthetics, produces innovative materials, thus, inspiring new consumerist ideas. Furniture, electronic devices, everyday objects and fashion use the Space Age look, and define a creative Zeitgeist. Paco Rabanne is the futuristic designer of the 1960s. The trained architect frees himself of the traditions of haute couture and uses unusual materials. His martial mini dress (1966) has no threads at all: metal rings link aluminium plates and only allow minimal flexibility for the wearer. André Courrèges’ space collection from 1964 to 1965 shows girls from the moon in angular clothes with helmet-like hats and glasses made out of plastic with curved eye-slits as a stylish protection against space radiation.

In 1968 on Christmas Eve, NASA’s snapshot of the earth forever changes the way we see her. For the first time, a world audience views an “Earthrise” over the horizon of the moon through the eyes of the Apollo 8 astronauts. The iconic picture is henceforth symbolic of the preciousness of planet earth and the uniqueness of earthly life; and it makes people think about how to responsibly treat this world that seems to be so small and fragile from a distance.

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg Cited 11/02/2019

 

Paco Rabanne (Spanish, b. 1934) 'Minidress' 1966

 

Paco Rabanne (Spanish, b. 1934)
Minidress
1966
Aluminium, metal rings, metal studs
L 74 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Photo: Maria Thrun/MKG

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998) 'Spiegel-Canteen, Snackbar' 1969

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998)
Spiegel-Canteen, Snackbar
1969
Photo: Michael Bernhardi/Spiegel Verlag, 2011

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998) 'Spiegel-Canteen, Orange Dining Room' 1969

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998)
Spiegel-Canteen, Orange Dining Room
1969
Photo: Michael Bernhardi/Spiegel Verlag, 2011

 

 

Von “Rauschhülle” bis Filmkulisse – From “noise cover” to film set

In 1968, Spiegel-Verlag commissioned the Danish architect and designer Verner Panton with the interior design of the new publishing house in Hamburg. He declines the colour gamut of the rainbow – consistently he designs everything uniformly in one tone. But taste changes and the rooms are painted white. The canteen alone remains spared and is now a listed building. Since the move the publisher is in the Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg.

 

Verner Panton (13 February 1926 – 5 September 1998) is considered one of Denmark’s most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers. During his career, he created innovative and futuristic designs in a variety of materials, especially plastics, and in vibrant and exotic colours. His style was very “1960s” but regained popularity at the end of the 20th century; as of 2004, Panton’s most well-known furniture models are still in production (at Vitra, among others).

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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22
Nov
17

Display: ‘Stan Firm inna Inglan’ at Tate Britain, London

November 2017

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Mike Eghan at the BBC Studios, London' 1967, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (born 1929)
Mike Eghan at the BBC Studios, London
1967, printed 2010
Gelatin silver on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

 

This was the best photography exhibition which wasn’t an exhibition – because it was a “display” – that I saw on my recent trip to Europe.

Why was it the best? Because this is what strong, insightful photography can do: it can capture life; it can document different cultures; and it can be a powerful agent for social change.

I remember London in the 1970s. I lived in Clapham (Claiff-ham Heights) and Stockwell (we called it St. Ockwell) near Brixton at the time. I remember the Brixton riot of 1981, as I was living in my little room down the road, as the cars burnt and the buildings were smashed. “Brixton in South London was an area with serious social and economic problems. The whole United Kingdom was affected by a recession by 1981, but the local African-Caribbean community was suffering particularly high unemployment, poor housing, and a higher than average crime rate.” (Wikipedia) People felt oppressed by recession, racism, the police, and by the establishment, for this was the era of Margaret Thatcher and her bullies. But as these photographs show, there was such a vibrant sense of community in these areas as they sought to ‘stand firm in England’ because it was their home.

It is our great privilege that we have the images of this very talented group of photographers who documented Black communities in London during this time: Raphael Albert, Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi, James Barnor, Colin Jones, Neil Kenlock, Dennis Morris, Syd Shelton and Al Vandenberg. And I find it heartening that all of these photographers were documenting their community at the same time. The African-Caribbean diaspora is part of the genetic makeup of the UK and multiculturalism, from where ever it emanates, should be valued in societies around the world. It enriches contemporary culture through an understanding and acceptance of difference.

Against racism; against fascism; against discrimination. For freedom from oppression and the right to be heard.

Marcus

PS. There were no media images so I took iPhone installation photographs of the display, so please excuse any reflection of the gallery in the images. I have cleaned and balanced them as much as possible.

.
All installation shots are © Dr Marcus Bunyan.

 

James Barnor

 

 

James Barnor (born 1929)
Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London
1966, printed 2010
C-print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

 

“The picture of a young woman leaning against a shiny grey Jaguar was taken in Kilburn, north London, in 1966. The pastel minidress, heavy fringe and costume jewellery feel instantly familiar as belonging to the era, but while we’re used to seeing a pallid Twiggy or Penelope Tree striding about London in fashion shoots from the same time, we rarely see images in which the model is black.

The pictures shown here of young women with 1960s-style beehives and miniskirts were shot as fashion stories for Drum , an influential anti-apartheid magazine based in Johannesburg, and Africa’s first black lifestyle magazine. …

Erlin Ibreck, the model in the main photograph who was 19 at the time, remembers Barnor asking her to pose in Trafalgar Square while flocks of excited pigeons landed on her. ‘I was more nervous about the pigeons than people around us who were staring.’

Some of the models were professional, but Ibreck was someone Barnor spotted in a bus queue at Victoria station. Ibreck was living in Cheshire but visiting her sister, who lived in London. Barnor asked if she would like to be photographed for Drum magazine and eventually she agreed.

Encouraged by Barnor, Ibreck enrolled at the Lucie Clayton modelling school in Manchester, but finding work as a black model in the 1960s was not easy.

‘It was very tough as there were very few black models,’ she says. ‘I was selected by Lucie Clayton to model De Beers diamonds – a South African company, and this was during apartheid. When they discovered that I was black De Beers cancelled the booking and chose a white model.

‘That booking would have enhanced my career, so it was a very painful experience to have been rejected on the basis of my colour. This experience made me realise what I was up against.’ After two years Ibreck gave up modelling and moved to New York.”

Although Barnor says he wasn’t consciously attempting to chronicle ‘black culture’ in England, and was simply taking photographs of things that interested him and the readers of Drum , the effect was, none the less, an optimistic suggestion that these cosmopolitan young African women were part of the exciting new, multicultural society in London that people were talking about.

Barnor’s memories of the time seem to be largely positive, and he says he doesn’t remember experiencing any overt racism. ‘I moved in enlightened circles so I did not have to put up with most of what other black people had to go through, though I did notice when I sat on a bus many people didn’t want to sit next to me.’

Kate Salter. “Colour me beautiful: James Barnor’s photographs for Drum magazine,” on the Telegraph website 07 December 2010 [Online] Cited 08/10/2017

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Wedding Guests, London' 1960s, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (born 1929)
Wedding Guests, London
1960s, printed 2010
Gelatin silver on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Eva, London' 1960s, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (born 1929)
Eva, London
1960s, printed 2010
Gelatin silver on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

Stan Firm

 

 

 

This display brings together works from the 1960s and 1970s by eight photographers who documented Black communities in London: Raphael Albert, Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi, James Barnor, Colin Jones, Neil Kenlock, Dennis Morris, Syd Shelton and Al Vandenberg.

The photographs reveal the many and varied experiences of individuals who travelled from the Caribbean region and West Africa to live in London, from everyday family life to political engagement. They show people as they respond to, react against and move beyond the racial tension and exclusion that were part of life for Black communities in the British capital. The title of the display, ‘Stan Firm inna Inglan’, is taken from the poem It Dread inna Inglan by Linton Kwesi Johnson, who in the 1970s gave a voice and poetic form to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and its resistance in the face of racism. The poem expresses in Jamaican patois (creole) the resolve of African, Asian and Caribbean immigrants to ‘stand firm in England’, asserting the determination of Black British communities to remain in Britain and declare it as their rightful home.

The work of most of the photographers has gained prominence in recent years through the research and curatorial work of Autograph ABP, which was established in London in 1988 to advocate the inclusion of historically marginalised photographic practices. All works in the display have been gifted to the Tate collection and form part of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection, an important collection of photography which was assembled over more than 20 years.

This display has been curated by Elena Crippa, Allison Thompson and Susana Vargas Cervantes. Alison and Susana worked at Tate as part of the Brooks International Fellowship programme for three months in 2016, fully funded by the Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Foundation and in partnership with the Delfina Foundation.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Dennis Morris

 

Dennis Morris. ''Mother's Pride', Hackney' 1976, printed 2012

 

Dennis Morris
‘Mother’s Pride’, Hackney
1976, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Dennis Morris. 'Young Gun, Hackney' 1969, printed 2012

 

Dennis Morris
Young Gun, Hackney
1969, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Bandele Ajetunmobi (1921-1994) 'Couple Kissing, Whitechapel, London' 1960s, printed 2012

 

Bandele Ajetunmobi (1921-1994)
Couple Kissing, Whitechapel, London
1960s, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

 

“Bandele Ajetunmobi – widely known as Tex – took photographs in the East End for almost half a century, starting in the late forties. He recorded a tender vision of interracial camaraderie, notably as manifest in a glamorous underground nightlife culture yet sometimes underscored with melancholy too – creating poignant portraits that witness an almost-forgotten era of recent history.

In 1947, at twenty-six years old, he stowed away on a boat from Nigeria – where he found himself an outcast on account of the disability he acquired from polio as a child – and in East London he discovered the freedom to pursue his life’s passion for photography, not for money or reputation but for the love of it.

He was one of Britain’s first black photographers and he lived here in Commercial St, Spitalfields, yet most of his work was destroyed when he died in 1994 and, if his niece had not rescued a couple of hundred negatives from a skip, we should have no evidence of his breathtaking talent. …

“He did all this photography yet he didn’t do it to make money, he did it for pleasure and for artistic purposes. He was doing it for art’s sake.He had lots of books of photography and he studied it. He was doing it because those things needed to be recorded. You fall in love with a medium and that’s what happened to him. He spent all his money on photography. He had expensive cameras, Hasselblads and Leicas. My mother said, ‘If you sold one, you could make a visit to Nigeria.’ But he never went back, he was probably a bit of an outcast because of his polio as a child and it suited him to be somewhere people didn’t judge him for that. …

He used to do buying and selling from a stall in Brick Lane. When he died, they found so much stuff in his flat, art equipment, pens, old records and fountain pens. He had a very good eye for things. Everybody knew him, he was always with his camera and they stopped him in the street and asked him to take their picture. He was able to take photographs in clubs, so he must have been a trusted and respected figure. Even if the subjects are poor, they are strutting their stuff for the camera. He gave them their pride and I like that.” (Victoria Loughran)

The Gentle Author . “Bandele “Tex” Ajetunmobi, Photographer,” on the Spitalfields Life website December 2, 2013 [Online] Cited 08/10/2017

 

Bandele Ajetunmobi (1921-1994) 'East End, London' c. 1975, printed 2012

 

Bandele Ajetunmobi (1921-1994)
East End, London
c. 1975, printed 2012
C-print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Al Vandenberg

 

 

Al Vanbenberg (1932-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975-80

 

Al Vanbenberg (1932-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975-80
From the series On a Good Day
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

Al Vanbenberg (1932-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975-80

 

Al Vanbenberg (1932-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975-80
From the series On a Good Day
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

Al Vanbenberg (1932-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975-80

 

Al Vanbenberg (1932-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975-80
From the series On a Good Day
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

 

Colin Jones

 

Colin Jones From the series 'The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London' 1976, printed 2012

Colin Jones From the series 'The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London' 1976, printed 2012

Colin Jones From the series 'The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London' 1976, printed 2012

Colin Jones From the series 'The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London' 1976, printed 2012

Colin Jones From the series 'The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London' 1976, printed 2012

Colin Jones From the series 'The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London' 1976, printed 2012

 

Colin Jones (born 1936)
From the series The Black House, 571 Holloway Road, London
1976, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Syd Shelton

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947) 'Southhall Carnival against the Nazis' 1979, printed 2012

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947)
Southhall Carnival against the Nazis
1979, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947) 'Jubilee Street, Stepney, London' 1977, printed 2012

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947)
Jubilee Street, Stepney, London
1977, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947) 'Bagga (Bevin Fagan), Hackney, East London' 1979, printed 2012

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947)
Bagga (Bevin Fagan), Hackney, East London
1979, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947) 'Skinheads, Petticoat Lane, East London' 1979, printed 2012

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947)
Skinheads, Petticoat Lane, East London
1979, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947) 'Anti racist Skinheads, Hackney, London' 1979, printed 2012

 

Syd Shelton (born 1947)
Anti racist Skinheads, Hackney, London
1979, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Neil Kenlock

 

Neil Kenlock (born 1950) 'The Bailey Sisters in Clapham' c. 1970, printed 2010

 

Neil Kenlock (born 1950)
The Bailey Sisters in Clapham
c. 1970, printed 2010
Gelatin silver print on paper
Presented by Tate Members 2013 and forming part of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection

 

Neil Kenlock (born 1950) 'Demonstration outside Brixton Library' 1972, printed 2010

 

Neil Kenlock (born 1950)
Demonstration outside Brixton Library
1972, printed 2010
Gelatin silver print on paper
Presented by Tate Members 2013 and forming part of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection

 

Neil Kenlock (born 1950) ''Keep Britain White' graffiti, Balham' 1972, printed 2010

 

Neil Kenlock (born 1950)
‘Keep Britain White’ graffiti, Balham
1972, printed 2010
Gelatin silver print on paper
Presented by Tate Members 2013 and forming part of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection

 

Raphael Albert

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009) 'The Golden Chip, Hammersmith, London' c. 1970, printed 2012

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009)
The Golden Chip, Hammersmith, London
c. 1970, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009) 'Hammersmith, London' 1960s, printed 2012

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009)
Hammersmith, London
1960s, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009) 'The Harder They Come, Hammersmith Apollo' c. 1972, printed 2012

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009)
The Harder They Come, Hammersmith Apollo
c. 1972, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009) 'Holley posing at Blythe Road, London' c. 1974, printed 2012

 

Raphael Albert (1935-2009)
Holley posing at Blythe Road, London
c. 1974, printed 2012
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2016

 

 

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21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” – Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (b, 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (detail)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0 cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below)

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Bathers
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

“When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomizing the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” – Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (b. 1967)
cantchant
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928)
Sunbather
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth ‘An artist in wonderland’ The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne]
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)
Balmoral (detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204 cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117 cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40 cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34 cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below)

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (b. 1947)
Abundance (detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (b. 1960)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. Recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn by Papapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, Papapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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03
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston