Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project

Mary Parker and Caela Cowan

Acclaimed photographer Dawoud Bey presents an exhibition of portraits, which symbolically commemorates the four young girls and two boys whose lives were lost on September 15, 1963, in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. As some of the youngest victims of the Civil Rights Movement, Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14) are memorialized along with Virgil Ware (13) and Johnny Robinson (16), two Birmingham boys who lost their lives as a result of the violence that followed the bombing.

To create the portraits, Bey photographed girls, women, boys, and men who currently reside in Birmingham. The subjects represent the ages of the young victims at the time of their deaths, and the ages they would be were they alive today. Along with the portraits, Bey also created a video shot in locations throughout Birmingham entitled 9.15.63. The video evokes the mood of that day: an ordinary Sunday morning, propelled into tragedy by senseless violence. Without specifically referencing the incidents, the project serves as a memorial to lives lost, a message of hope, and a promise for the future.

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first one-person exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. He has since had numerous exhibitions worldwide, at such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Barbican Centre in London, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art among many others. The Walker Art Center organized a mid-career survey of his work, Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995, that traveled to institutions throughout the United States and Europe. A major publication of the same title was also published in conjunction with that exhibition. Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey was published by Aperture in 2007. A traveling exhibition of this work toured to museum throughout the country from 2007 – 2011. In 2008 he completedCharacter Project, commissioned by USA Network and published by Chronicle Books in 2009.

Bey’s works are included in the permanent collections of numerous museums, both in the United States and abroad, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and other museums worldwide. He has been honored with numerous fellowships over the course of his long career, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2002) and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1991).

His critical writings have appeared in publications throughout Europe and the United States, including High Times Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967- 1975The Van DerZee Studio, and David Hammons: Been There Done That. He has curated a wide range of exhibitions at museums and institutions as well, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Weatherspoon Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Wadsworth Atheneum, GASP (Gallery Artists Studio Projects), and the Hyde Park Art Center.

Dawoud Bey holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Art, and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.

Tour Dates
Birmingham Museum of Art
September 8, 2013 – December 2, 2013