Family Pictures
Columbus Museum of Art (traveled to Milwaukee Art Museum)

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On view February 16 through May 20, 2018, Family Pictures explores the ways in which black photographers and artists have portrayed a range of familial relationships, from blood relatives to close-knit neighborhoods to queer communities. Beginning with Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes’s groundbreaking 1955 book The Sweet Flypaper of Life, the exhibition gathers photographic series, installations, and videos by an intergenerational group of artists, including John Edmonds, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Lorraine O’Grady, Gordon Parks, Sondra Perry, Ming Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems. Their images of family life often maneuver between intimate, everyday stories and broader political realities, between the universal human condition and the particular histories of race in the United States. Head of Exhibitions and William J. and Sarah Ross Soter Associate Curator of Photography Drew Sawyer organized the exhibition.

A touchstone for several of the artists in the exhibition is the work of Roy DeCarava (American, 1919-2009). Coming of age in Harlem during the 1940s, DeCarava reacted against what he saw as superficial stereotypes and “sociological” studies of his neighborhood by mostly white outsiders. With the aid of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1952, the artist set out to create expressive photographs of life in his community. He eventually published 140 pictures along with text by Langston Hughes in The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955), a fictional family album that tenderly captures intimate moments of domestic life both in Harlem and seemingly everywhere.

“DeCarava’s photographs were in part a rejoinder to projects like the Photo League’s ‘Harlem Document’ from the late 1930s. Given that CMA holds the Photo League Collection and many photographs from that series, this exhibition is an opportunity to explore a counterpoint of one of our most well-known and beloved photographic collections,” said Sawyer. “Like DeCarava, the artists in the exhibition employ various formal strategies and personal narratives to complicate artistic and mainstream representations while also challenging various constructions of family and community.”

Related Programming

Collective Voices
Collective Voices are audio recordings by artists, curators, scholars, poets, civic leaders, and visitors available via mobile phone in the exhibition. Family Pictures features recordings by artist Lyle Ashton Harris and Nicole Fleetwood, Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies at Rutgers University and author of Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality and Blackness.

Artist’s Talk: Carrie Mae Weems
Join CMA on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at 4:30 pm at the Wexner Center for the Arts for a free artist talk with Carrie Mae Weems. Supported by The Ohio State University, Living Culture Initiative.

Artist’s Talk: Deana Lawson
Join CMA on Thursday, May 17, 2018, at 6:00 pm at the Columbus Museum of Art for an artist talk with Deana Lawson. This program is free and sponsored by The Contemporaries, an interest group of the Columbus Museum of Art.

Family Pictures is funded in part by a grant from Puffin Foundation West, Ltd.