Girl Smilingphoto by Ken Ramsay with Susan Taylor as a model

This 1970s photo by Ken Ramsay with Susan Taylor as a model is one of approximately 85 that will be on display when The College of Wooster Art Museum presents “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” Jan 15 through March 3. (Courtesy Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, Pasadena, Calif.).


Art Exhibition Explores Notions of African and African American Beauty

College of Wooster Art Museum to host “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” Jan. 15-Mar. 3

December 5, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster Art Museum will present “Posing Beauty in African American Culture,” a striking collection of color and black-and-white images that explore the contested ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented in historical and contemporary contexts. The exhibition, which opens Jan. 15 and continues through Mar. 3, will feature a range of works, mostly photographs, which will be on display in both the Sussel Gallery and the Burton D. Morgan Gallery in Ebert Art Center (1220 Beall Ave.).

Presented in collaboration with Wooster’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDGE) and the Office of the President, “Posing Beauty” explores contemporary understandings of beauty by framing the notion of aesthetics, race, class, and gender within art, popular culture, and political contexts, according to exhibition curator Deborah Willis. The images challenge romanticized notions of beauty in art by examining their portrayal in three thematic sections: “Constructing a Pose,” “Body and Image,” and “Modeling Beauty and Beauty Contests.”

“Willis has for¬ever changed the conversation about beauty in American life,” wrote New York Times critic Jennifer Baszile in a 2009 review of Willis’s book, Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (which accompanies the exhibition). “After centuries of exclusion and segregation in which African American beauty existed on the margins of the culture, Willis offers readers a thoughtful and nuanced consideration of the relationship of beauty and power. She invites us to marvel at the glamour and elegance contained in the photographs, and in the process, instructs us on how to expand the definition of beauty within our national imagination.”

Featured in the exhibition are approximately 85 works drawn from public and private collections. Some of the artists included in the exhibition are: Ifetayo Abdus-Salam, Eve Arnold, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Thomas Askew, Anthony Barboza, Sheila Pree Bright, Renee Cox, Edward Curtis, Bruce Davidson, Mansita Diawara, Lola Flash, Lee Friedlander, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Lyle Ashton Harris, Builder Levy, Philippe Levy-Stab, John W. Mosley, Robert McNeill, David Oggi Ogburn, Ken Ramsay, Bayeté Ross Smith, Jamel Shabazz, Stephen Shames, Mickalene Thomas, Lewis Watts, Carrie Mae Weems, Carla Williams, Garry Winogrand, and lauren woods.

Willis is also the author of Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs, and Reflections in Black. She is a recipient of MacArthur, Guggenheim, and Fletcher Fellowships, and has curated numerous exhibitions. She is the chair of the Photography and Imaging Department at the Tisch School of the Arts and a University Professor at New York University. The exhibition tour is organized by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, Pasadena, Calif.

The opening reception for “Posing Beauty” will be Thursday, Jan. 17, from 6:30-8 p.m., with a gallery talk (7 p.m.) by student exhibition researchers enrolled in the Fall 2012 Museum Studies course. There will also be a Faculty/Student Roundtable presented by Charles Peterson (Africana Studies), Leslie Wingard (English), Christa Craven (Anthropology), and senior Isabelle Briggs, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 7-8 p.m. Other events include a Lunchtime Gallery Walk led by Kitty McManus Zurko, director of The College of Wooster Art Museum, along with student exhibition researchers, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, from noon to 1 p.m.; a Curator Talk with Willis on Monday, Feb. 11, from 7-8 p.m. in Room 223 of Ebert Art Center; and a Music in the Galleries event, featuring d.scott+string quartet, on Thursday, Feb. 28, from 7-8 p.m. In addition, a student-generated digital project, titled “Students Speak to Beauty,” and organized by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, will play on screens across campus in February. For additional CDGE associated events, visit Center's website.

The College of Wooster Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. All receptions, lectures, exhibitions, and performances are free and open to the public. Group and class tours are also available. For more information or to arrange a tour, please call 330-263-2388 or visit the Museum's website.