the historicity and timelessness of ‘posing beauty’

March 12, 2019
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Just as some ideas and images never grow old, there are also concepts and tastes whose social meanings evolve with time. This is among the underlying principles of the traveling exhibit, “Posing Beauty in African American Culture,” which has been on the road since 2010. It is now on view at the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park until April 27th.

The exhibition, originally curated by Deborah Willis, professor, academic director and department chairperson at New York University’s Department of Photography & Imaging, challenges contemporary understandings of beauty by framing notions of aesthetics, race, class and gender within art, popular culture and politics. Mirroring the evolution of these notions, the images on view also change as the exhibit moves from location to location.

Throughout the Western history of art and image-making, the relationship between beauty and art has become increasingly complex. And “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” explores the contested ways in which African and African American beauty has been represented in historical and contemporary contexts through a diverse range of media including photography, video, fashion, advertising, and other forms of popular culture.

In celebration of women’s history month, here are ten images of Black feminine beauty currently on display at the University of Maryland’s Driskell Center. Look for “Posing Beauty” as it travels to a gallery, museum or cultural center near you.

Adama Delphine Fawundu

Adama Delphine Fawundu (b. 1971), “Big Fro, Brown Eyes” (2011), archival digital print 40 x 30

Ifetayo Abdus-Salam

Ifetayo Abdus-Salam (b. 1983) “Self-Portrait as Pam Grier (from the American Exotic series)” (2005), Archival InkJet print 20 x 15.5

Thomas Askew

Thomas Askew (1848-1914), “African American Woman” (1899 circa), Digital print 6.25 x 4.375

Anthony Barboza

Anthony Barboza (b. 1944). “Pat Evans (1970s circa),” digital print 16×16

Lauren Kelley

Lauren Kelley, “Pickin'” (2007), color-coupler print, 23×23

John W. Mosley

John W. Mosley (1907-1969), “Atlantic City, Four Women,” (1960s circa), Gelatin silver print, 9.025×7.5

David "Oggi" Ogburn

David “Oggi” Ogburn (b. 1942), “Lil’ Kim—Rapping in the Flesh” (2000), Color-coupler print, 19.5×15.5

Lewis Watts

Lewis Watts (b. 1946), “Beauty on West 142nd Street, Harlem” (2007), Gelatin silver print, 22×14.87

Renee Cox, "Chillin' with Liberty" (1998)

A bold pioneer in the field of photography, Renee Cox has countered dominant discourses on racial classification through a deft and witty reclamation and re-invention of black identity. Notably, with her self-styled superhero alias, Raje, and her reinterpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, as Yo Mama’s Last Supper.