New Exhibition at NJ State Museum Explores Beauty, Complexity of Black Culture
The New Jersey State Museum will present “Posing Beauty in African American Culture,” a touring exhibition opening January 29, 2022. The exhibition explores the contested ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented in historical and contemporary contexts. Throughout the Western history of art and image-making, the relationship between beauty and art has become increasingly complex within contemporary art and popular culture. The exhibition, organized by the Department of Photography & Imaging at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts and curated by Deborah Willis, PhD, University Professor and Chair of the Department, will be presented on the Museum’s main first floor gallery through May 22, 2022.
“Posing Beauty in African American Culture” challenges contemporary understandings of beauty by framing notions of aesthetics, race, class and gender within art, popular culture and politics. New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way notes, “This important and visually stunning exhibition has been travelling the country, and we are so pleased to be able to present it to New Jerseyans and provide them with the opportunity to explore the ideas presented.”
Margaret O’Reilly, Museum Executive Director and Curator of Fine Art added, “This powerful exhibition explores the beauty and complexity of black culture, while also discussing beauty as a political act. This will be our first new exhibition since the shutdown and know that visitors will find the topics both timely and thought-provoking. The photographers in the show are renowned and we are particularly pleased that three of the artists featured – Anthony Barboza, Gordon Parks and Wendell A. White – are also represented in the State Museum’s Fine Art collection.”
The exhibition is divided into three thematic sections: “Constructing a Pose,” considers the interplay between the historical and the contemporary, between self-representation and imposed representation, and the relationship between subject and photographer; “Body and Image,” questions the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been constructed and framed through the body; and “Modeling Beauty & Beauty Contests,” invites us to reflect upon the ambiguities of beauty, its impact on mass culture and individuals, and how the display of beauty affects the ways in which we see and interpret the world and ourselves.
Artists in the exhibit include, among others, Carrie Mae Weems, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Sheila Pree Bright, Leonard Freed, Jamal Shabazz, Renee Cox, Edwin Rosskam, Hank Willis Thomas, Anthony Barboza, Bruce Davidson, Mickalene Thomas, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Gordon Parks and Wendel A. White (Galloway, NJ). The touring exhibition is made possible in part by the J. P. Morgan Chase Foundation and Curatorial Assistance, Inc. Additional support for the project was provided by grants from the Tisch School of the Arts Office of the Dean’s Faculty Development Fund, Visual Arts Initiative Award from the NYU Coordinating Council for Visual Arts, and NYU’s Advanced Media Studio. At the New Jersey State Museum, the exhibition has been made possible by the Lucille M. Paris Fund of the New Jersey State Museum Foundation.
The New Jersey State Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00 am to 4:45 pm. General admission is free, and donations to the NJ State Museum Foundation gratefully accepted. All visitors to the Museum over the age of two are required to wear face coverings over the nose and mouth. For additional information visit www.statemuseum.nj.gov, like the Museum’s Facebook page (@NJStateMuseum), follow us on Twitter (njstatemuseum), or Instagram (nj_statemuseum).
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