“For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights” on View at the International Center of Photography
A new exhibition, “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” is now open at the International Center for Photography in New York City. The exhibit of photos, TV clips and other media featuring African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s has been co-organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and Maurice Berger of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It continues at the Center until Sept. 12 and opens at the Smithsonian in June 2011.
The exhibition demonstrates the extent to which the rise of the modern civil rights movement paralleled the birth of TV and the popularity of picture magazines and other forms of visual mass media, and it traces the gradual introduction of African American faces into that context. These images were ever-present: the startling footage of Southern white aggression toward blacks that appeared night after night on network news, the photographs of achievers and martyrs in black periodicals that roused pride or activism in the African American community and the humble snapshots that became part of family histories.
Among the featured photographers are Roy DeCarava, Elliot Erwitt, Joseph Louw, Gordon Parks, Robert Sengstacke, Moneeta Sleet and Carl Van Vechten.
The role of visual media in combating racism is rarely included in standard histories of the movement. “For All the World to See” includes 230 objects and television and film clips dating to the late 1940s.
Exhibition highlights include materials relating to the Emmett Till case, such as a rare pamphlet by the photographer Ernest C. Withers recounting the murder and its aftermath; historic footage of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the major leagues and sports memorabilia; an examination of the Negro pictorial magazines (Ebony, Jet and Tan); photographs documenting the civil rights movement and its leaders; documentaries, most not seen in decades, such as The Weapons of Gordon Parks, Ku Klux Klan: The Invisible Empire and Take This Hammer; and excerpts from TV programs (The Beulah Show, East Side/West Side, All in the Family). “For All the World to See” looks at images from a range of cultural outlets and formats, tracking the ways they represented race in order to alter beliefs and attitudes.
Following its debut at the International Center of Photography, the exhibition will travel to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (June 9, 2011, to Nov. 28, 2011); and the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (September 2012 to January 2013).
The exhibition is accompanied by the fully illustrated book For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, by Berger with a foreword by Thulani Davis (Yale University Press, 2010).
Berger is senior research scholar at the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture. He is the author of White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999)—which was a finalist for the 2000 Horace Mann Bond Book Award of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University—and 10 other books. Berger has organized numerous exhibitions, including retrospectives of the artists Adrian Piper (1999) and Fred Wilson (2001) and “White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art” (2003).
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. The Smithsonian Board of Regents, the governing body of the Institution, voted in January 2006 to build the museum on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall. The building is scheduled to open in 2015. Until then, NMAAHC is presenting its touring exhibitions in major cities across the country and in its own gallery at the National Museum of American History.
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