Posing Beauty in African American Culture

Harlem Fashion Show, Harlem Leonard Freed, 1963
Harlem Fashion Show, Harlem
Leonard Freed, 1963

September 7-December 3, 2011

Deborah Willis, Curator

Posing Beauty in African American Culture explores 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.

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The images in this exhibition challenge idealized forms of beauty in art by examining their portrayal and exploring a variety of attitudes about race, class, gender, popular culture and politics as seen through the aesthetics of representation. The first of 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. The second theme, “Body and Image,” questions the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been constructed and framed through the body. The last section, “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.

Posing Beauty explores contemporary understandings of beauty by framing the notion of aesthetics, race, class, and gender within art, popular culture, and political contexts. This exhibit features approximately 84 works drawn from public and private collections and will be accompanied by a book published by W.W. Norton.

The exhibition is organized by the Department of Photography & Imaging at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. The exhibition is curated by Deborah Willis, University Professor and Chair of the Department. The touring exhibition is made possible in part by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Curatorial Assistance. Additional support has been 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.

This exhibition tour is organized by Curatorial Assistance, Pasadena, California.

Read the review of Posing Beauty featured in Canadian Art Online.
Read the review of the publication by Deborah Willis for Posing Beauty in The New York Times.