DIA shines a spotlight on black fashion photographers, 85-year-old painter


One highlights decades of work by a veteran Detroit painter, the other draws on the pages of style magazines, featuring a new generation of fashion photographers.

The Detroit Institute of the Arts will open two new art exhibitions focusing on the work of black artists on Friday, December 17.

“Shirley Woodson: Shields of the Nile Reflections” celebrates a renowned painter and educator from Detroit. “The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion” highlights portraits and conceptual images of 15 black photographers.

Honor a legend

Artist Shirley Woodson is seen in front of her acrylic painting titled

Shirley Woodson turned 85 this year, and the sky’s the limit. Six decades after the start of his career, 2021 has been a particularly stellar year. In January, she was announced as this year’s Distinguished Kresge Artist (along with a cash prize of $ 50,000). In September, she participated in an exhibition at the Detroit Artists Market. The following month, she was named among the first recipients of the new Detroit ACE Honors, presented by the Detroit Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship. Now she ends the year with a high profile exposure at DIA.

DIA describes “Shield of the Nile” as a showcase of “its vibrant and dreamlike paintings of black bathers in rivers, honoring the diasporic myth that the Nile holds transformative and nourishing benefits for people of African descent.”

Woodson, who often refers to the African continent in his work, began his “Nile” series in the early 1980s. Eleven of these paintings will be on display at the museum, selected by the artist and Valerie J. Mercer, the first curator of African American Art of the DIA and Director of its General Motors Center for African American Art.

“Water appears frequently in his works,” said Mercer, “and for these it represents the Nile. This ancient body of water is important to people of African descent on an almost mythological level, protecting us, connecting us to our roots. It is very positive. The idea of ​​water as a basic element of life is something that has always intrigued her, and that runs through all of these paintings. Some compositions are more figurative, but some are a mixture of abstraction and figuration. It has a lot to do with his development as an artist – the influence of abstraction in the 1950s, 60s and 70s combined with a strong interest in figurative work.

Related: Legendary Detroit Artist and Educator Shirley Woodson Wins Kresge Honor and $ 50,000

Related: The Kresge Foundation among the city of Detroit’s first annual arts and culture laureates

Woodson described an elaborate process that went into the conservation of works that span a long period of time.

“We went from examining the history of my practice to a timeline that included the development of themes, materials, changing approaches, collaborations, combinations of disciplines, teaching philosophies over the years. Woodson said. “I know that our many discussions were fruitful and allowed the curator and her team to have a broader vision in the selection of works for the exhibition.

“Needless to say, this has been a most amazing year for me. The Kresge Prize, and the exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, provided two remarkable experiences for which I am deeply honored. My community is the best.

” Since a long time ”

Black photographers, black models; the boundaries of creativity, fashion and archaic beauty standards are twisted and shattered in “The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion”, a breathtaking exhibition which also opens on Friday, December 17th.

Curated by writer and critic Antwaun Sargent, the exhibition features vividly colored portraits, conceptual imagery, and editorial fashion photography.

A large image by photographer Tyler Mitchell is shown as part of the New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in downtown Detroit on December 16, 2021.

“It’s really mind-blowing,” said Nancy Barr, curator of photography for DIA. “The photographs are so dynamic. It’s quite a visual statement for the museum to make. We have two exhibitions at the moment by black photographers. The other is from Kwame Brathwaite, “Black is Beautiful”. This one is more of a historical spectacle, and this one is more of a contemporary statement, but they intersect in different ways. And these are long overdue.

Barr said she found out about Sargent’s curation work via Instagram.

“I knew Antwaun through Instagram and through his writings, and

I found him to be such a brilliant writer on photography, fashion and culture in general.

I learned that he had published a book, “The New Black Vanguard”, in 2019, then I learned that there was a traveling exhibition of work accompanying it. It just made perfect sense.

A section of an image by photographer Namsa Leuba is shown as part of the New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in downtown Detroit on December 16, 2021.

The exhibition features selected works by groundbreaking contemporary photographers including Campbell Addy, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Awol Erizku, Nadine Ijewere, Quil Lemons, Namsa Leuba, Renell Medrano, Tyler Mitchell, Jamal Nxedlana, Daniel Obasi, Ruth Ossai , Adrienne Raquel, Dana Scruggs and Stephen Tayo.

“I grew up in Detroit and have never seen exhibits like these,” Barr said. “For a collection like ours, which is very Eurocentric – lots of portraits and paintings of majestic individuals from European communities – it’s really, really great to be able to put something like that in the museum.”

A series of photos by photographer Nadine Ijewere is shown as part of the New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in downtown Detroit on December 16, 2021.

“These two exhibitions give our visitors the opportunity to make new connections between styles and eras,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, director of the DIA. “” The New Black Vanguard “expands the perspective of our current photographic exhibition,” Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite, “showing how the art of photography has evolved over the past six decades.”

“And with the Shirley Woodson show,” he said, “we explore the impact and influence of a renowned and beloved artist from Detroit, highlighting the similarities and differences with the female artists practicing in Italy. in the 17th century, which will be presented at an exhibition opening in February, “Artemisia Gentileschi and women artists in Italy, 1500-1800”.

For more information on these exhibits or to schedule a visit (reservations are required due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), visit dia.org. You can also follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Contact Duante Beddingfield, Free Press arts and culture reporter, at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DBFreePress.


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