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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts “Posing Beauty” an African American exhibit opens.

Photographs of African American culture
Photographs of African American culture
copyright Louisa Preston

This exhibition is one of three at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which explores African American culture. The “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” exhibition and corresponding book, Posing Beauty, examines the relationship between beauty and politics by exploring black culture from the antebellum period to the present.

copyright Louisa Preston

Dr. Deborah Willis of New York University is one of the nation's leading historians of African-American photography. She developed “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” in order to explore the contested ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented in historical and contemporary contexts through a diverse range of media including photography, film, video, fashion, advertising, and other forms of popular culture such as music and the Internet. 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.

Artists in the exhibit include, among others, Carrie Mae Weems, Charles "Teenie" Harris, Eve Arnold, Gary Winogrand, Sheila Pree Bright, Leonard Freed, Renee Cox, Anthony Barboza, Bruce Davidson, Mickalene Thomas, Gordon Parks, Walker Evans, Annie Leibovitz and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. The touring exhibit of 84 photographs and one video has been shown in museums in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, California, Canada, Amsterdam, etc.
African Americans artists, celebrities, debutantes, actors, musicians, models, politicians, activists, families and friends are shown in formal portraits, such as Michelle Obama, and in street photography, such as a couple walking in New York City. Several images are of recognizable icons, such as Malcolm X, Serena Williams, James Brown, etc.

This exhibit is on the theme of the beauty of black culture; instead of the theme of the black experience of fear and violence. I celebrate the effort of the curator, but I still couldn’t escape my emotions of sadness and guilt.

A companion exhibition “Identity Shifts” feature works by African American artists. Painting, sculptures, and photographs date from the Harlem Renaissance to the present.

Both exhibits are open from April 26 to July 27th. Admission is Free for VMFA members, children under 6 and active-duty military personal and their immediate families. Otherwise, costs $10 for adults, $8 for seniors. Tickets are available through or 804-340-1405.

On the third floor of the museum in the photography hall are a few images from the Civil Rights protests in Virginia and in other locations. “Protest” is a free exhibit.

Upcoming related events:

Sunday, June 22, 3pm: Conversations: What is Beauty? FREE

Saturday, June 21st, 1-4pm: Celebrate African and African American Art – Free Style! Performances, storytelling, hip hop and admission to “Posing Beauty” FREE

Thursday, July 17th, 6:30 - 7:30 pm: Artist Talk: Sonya Clark & Robert Pruitt. A discussion in the Leslie Creek Theater on the exhibit “Identity Shifts”. Costs $8 (VMFA members $5)

“Posing Beauty” Gallery Tours: Tuesday, July 8, 11 am; Thursday, July 10, 6:30pm. FREE

This spring African American homes will be part of Virginia Historic Garden Week:

A Harlem Renaissance poet, Anne Spencer’s home and garden in Lynchburg, Virginia are featured in the Garden Club of Virginia Historic Garden Week. Her home and garden at 1313 Pierce Street will be open on Tuesday, April 29th from 10am to 6 pm.

For more information on Anne Spencer

In Gloucester, Virginia “Holly Knoll”, the home of Dr. Robert Mussa Moton is open on Saturday May 3rd. Dr. Moton was the second president of the Tuskegee Institute and a renowned African American educator. “Holly Knoll is located on 6498 Allmondsville Road. Cost of a single ticket is $15.

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