Friday, November 4, 2011

Photography Exhibit Highlights African-American Resistance

A diverse community of passionate citizens, Durham has a long and proud history as a civil rights center. Durham was the site of North Carolina's first sit-in and three years later, was the place Dr. Martin Luther King launched a new battle cry in his “Fill The Jails" speech. Some of the same civil rights leaders who pushed for advancement in Durham, NC are portrait subjects featured in a new exhibition to come to North Carolina Central University  by way of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Angela Davis
A stunning collection of photographic portraits, “Let Your Motto be Resistance: African-American Portraits,” will open at the North Carolina Central University Art Museum on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m. The collection reveals the nation's history through an African-American lens, using the lives of well-known abolitionists, artists, scientists, writers, statesmen, entertainers and sports figures.

Originally presented as the inaugural exhibit of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, the exhibit includes 69 prints that highlight individuals whose passion, determination and talent played an influential role in shaping notions of race and status over the past 150 years. Among the featured photographers who employ a variety of strategies to create their powerful images are Mathew Brady, James VanDerZee, Doris Ulmann, Edward Weston, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn and Carl Van Vechten.

The exhibit’s title was taken from a speech to the National Convention of Colored Citizens in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1843, by celebrated abolitionist and orator Henry Highland Garnet. In the speech titled “Call to Rebellion,” Garnet challenges the American slaves to rise up and emancipate themselves, arguing that armed unrest would be the most effective way to end slavery. “Let your motto be resistance,” he exclaimed, “Resistance! Resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance.”

“The need to resist, to challenge race-based assumptions, laws and practices that sought to limit black life, has always been a central tenet of African-American culture,” said Kenneth Rodgers, director of the NCCU Museum of Art.  “This resistance has many faces.  While some African-Americans demanded change at any cost, others chose nonviolent confrontations.”

African-Americans found many strategies to challenge, to struggle and to resist. From the image of “Gordon,” a formerly enslaved man whose whipped and scarred back speaks volumes about the strength needed to survive, to the sheer beauty of dancer Judith Jamison, whose creative expression calls into question notions of supposed racial inferiority. Portrait subjects were selected by photography historian and Smithsonian guest curator Deborah Willis.

The NCCU Art Museum is on Lawson Street across from the Farrison–Newton Communications Building. The Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. The exhibit will run until Jan. 15, 2012.

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