When Being Seen is Not Enough: The Future of Black Portraiture

When Being Seen is Not Enough: The Future of Black Portraiture uses the photographic medium to explore ideas involving representation and the Black subject. This exhibition attempts to challenge the narrative of Black people within photography by not only placing Black subjects in the center but showcasing work that provides a new dimension to capturing the Black subject. This new dimension or future of Black portraiture can be exemplified by the idea of the Black subject being authentic and original in whatever capacity that may look like and not being influenced by external views and biases.

To accomplish this, this exhibition looks at a collection of photographs from the past and present that exemplify the idea of an authentic and original Black subject. The exhibition is broken into two parts: Changing the Social Justice Narrative in Black Portraiture and In Control. The first section will explore the relationship between social justice movements and photography and how these select images portray Black people outside of the lens of violence or victimization. In photography relating to social justice movements, Black people are often shown as aggressors, martyrs, or victims of violence, and this section of the exhibition hopes to present new ways of looking Black subjects in relation to social justice movements. This section will feature photographs taken from the New York protests against police brutality in 1963, the Black Lives Matter Protests during the summer of 2020 and a moment exemplifying the powerful presence of Stacey Abrams to combat voter suppression in the 2020 election.

The second section titled In Control will explore the ramifications of photography that places the idea of control back into the hands of Black subjects. The ramifications of this type of photography is that it encourages a complex relationship between the viewer and the subjects within the work. This complex relationship is defined by respect, intimacy, vulnerability, humbleness, and any other emotion or feeling that is a hallmark of a true genuine connection. This connection with a Black subject in works that are deemed as high art are revolutionary and this section hopes to showcase work that allows this relationship to happen and to connect to the overarching theme of allowing Black subjects to live, breathe, and be oneself in whatever capacity that might look like. Photography from Arielle Bobb-Willis, Awol Erizku, and Stephen Tayo will be featured.


We chose to present this exhibition at the African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta, located in Atlanta, GA. It is a contemporary museum with the goal of displaying the Black experience across the world. Their mission is “to present and advance the exploration and conversations around 21st century contemporary art and culture of the African Diaspora through exhibitions, programs, and artist residencies.” We believe it is a match because their focus directly aligns with ours. Moving away from the idea that being seen is enough, the mission of this exhibition is to communicate a new idea of a Black subject. This exhibition proposes a new way of framing Black subjects in ways that are not monolithic, but as their original and authentic selves. We aim to add a new dimension to the Black gaze by looking at Black portraiture. The African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta is a new museum, so having an exhibition such as this in its formative years solidifies its mission. Which is to become a hub for African Diaspora art, education and culture. We, too, believe this partnership is a great opportunity to expand knowledge and interest of Black people being seen how they do want to and should be seen in photography and portraiture. 


Ahmed Hussien and Elizabeth Gowans