Photography and the Politics of Representation
Tuesday, May 3
6:30 p.m. EST
This panel is presented as part of the Vera List Center’s 2015–2017 curatorial focus on Post Democracy.
Black American photographers have long turned to their art as immediate political rifts affect their communities, creating work, often produced by outsiders, that challenges dominant visual narratives in the media. Photography is a strategic platform of representation of the black experience in the United States, and it is crucial today as protests across the country demand civil rights and the unveiling of the legacies of structural racism. As a shared common space is increasingly associated with our image-saturated online presences, the distinctly political role of visual representations has become more apparent and extends beyond photography to include notions of the photographic.
The photographers on this panel cross a historical divide; some have been active since the 1960s, while others became active more recently. Regardless, their work responds to deep connections to a particular place, the communities that call it home, and photographic conventions of representing such places. This dedication to place and an expansion of the vocabulary of representation connect their work with demands for media dignity posed in other parts of the world.
This panel will be moderated by art historian La Tanya S. Autry, and participants include: artist Sheila Pree Bright, who has been traveling across the South to capture intimate portraits of activists and presenting them alongside portraits of lesser-known Civil Rights Movement youth leaders; Shikeith, an artist who explores and challenges various roles that have been inscribed on the black male body; and artist Steffani Jemison, who uses time-based, photographic, and discursive platforms to examine “progress” and its alternatives. Taken together, their work complicates dominant narratives in the image economy.
This program is organized by The Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Parsons BFA Photography, in collaboration with Aperture Foundation at The New School.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Charina Endowment Fund, William Talbott Hillman Foundation, Inc., the Board of Trustees and Members of Aperture Foundation, as well as the members of the Vera List Center Advisory Committee.
La Tanya S. Autry is a PhD candidate in the art history department at University of Delaware. She studies art of the United States, photography, and museums. Her dissertation, The Crossroads of Commemoration: Lynching Landscapes in America, analyzes how communities and individuals memorialize the history of lynching violence in the built environment through sculptural monuments, historical markers, and performances. While she completes her dissertation, she works as a curatorial fellow at Yale University Art Gallery. Her upcoming exhibition of 1957 civil rights photography by Lee Friedlander will be on view at Yale in early 2017 and then will tour multiple U.S. venues.
Sheila Pree Bright is a fine-art photographer nationally known for her photographic series Young Americans, Plastic Bodies, and Suburbia. She received national attention shortly after earning her MFA in photography from Georgia State University, and is described in the art world as a cultural anthropologist portraying large-scale works that combine a wide range of contemporary culture. Bright’s current and most ambitious project to date, 1960Now, examines race, gender, and generational divides to raise awareness of millennial perspectives on civil and human rights. 1960Now is a photographic portrait series of emerging young leaders affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Steffani Jemison was born in Berkeley, California, and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2009) and a BA in comparative literature from Columbia University (2003). Jemison’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the Brooklyn Museum; the Drawing Center; LAXART; the New Museum; the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts; the Studio Museum in Harlem; Laurel Gitlen; Team Gallery; and others. In 2015, she presented her new multipart commission Promise Machine at the Museum of Modern Art. Jemison is currently an artist-in-residence in the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program. She teaches at Parsons The New School for Design, the Cooper Union, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Shikeith is a multidisciplinary visual artist and filmmaker. In his younger years, Shikeith was ostracized by other Black boys within his community who challenged the authenticity of his Black masculinity. This experience, among other personal traumas, inspired his works’ exploration into the individual psychological reaction to being viewed under the scopes of being Black and male in America. His first solo exhibition, Ode to Black, was held at the Paul Robeson Cultural Center when he was an undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University, where he studied art and received several awards, including the Leslie P. Greenhill scholarship for photography. In 2014, he received a grant from the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program, a partnership of the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. The grant supported his film #Blackmendream (2014) and solo exhibition Somewhere over the _ (October 2014), with Bunker Projects gallery in Pittsburgh.
Image: Shelia Pree Bright, Youth Leader of the 60s, Freedom Rider, Frank Holloway, from the series 1960Who, 2013