Posing Beauty in African American Culture

January 31 – June 4, 2023


Posing Beauty in African American Culture explores the ways in which African and African American beauty has been represented in historical and contemporary contexts through a diverse range of media including photography, video, fashion and advertising.

Throughout the history of Western art and image-making, beauty has been idealized and challenged, and the relationship between beauty and art has become increasingly complex within contemporary art and popular culture. Posing Beauty explores contemporary understandings of beauty by framing the notion of aesthetics, race, class and gender within art, popular culture and political contexts.

The first of three thematic sections, “Constructing a Pose,” considers the interplay between the historical and the contemporary, between self-representation and imposed representation, and the relationship between subject and photographer. The second theme, “Body & Image,” questions the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been constructed and framed through the body. The final theme, “Modeling Beauty & Beauty Contests,” invites us to reflect upon the ambiguities of beauty, its impact on mass culture and individuals, and how the display of beauty affects the ways in which we see and interpret the world and ourselves. Posing Beauty features approximately 120 works of art representing more than 45 artists and photographers including Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Anthony Barboza, Sheila Pree Bright, Renee Cox, Victor Diop, Leonard Freed, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Dave Heath, Lauren Kelley, John W. Mosley, Ken Ramsay, Jeffrey Scales, Stephen Shames, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems and Hank Willis Thomas, among others.

Posing Beauty in African American Culture is curated by Deborah Willis and organized by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, Pasadena, California. The exhibition is curated for the Harn by Jade Powers, Curator of Contemporary Art.

This exhibition is made possible locally by the generous support of Dr. M.F. “Midge” Smith, Ken and Laura Berns, Visit Gainesville, Alachua County, David Etherington and Jeffery Dunn, Eric and Yvette Godet, HCA Florida North Florida Hospital, Wells Fargo Foundation, Charles and June Allen, and Congregation Beth Jacob, with additional support from the Sidney Knight Endowment.




Member Preview

January 29, 1 - 5 pm
Harn Members will have the first opportunity to view the exhibition. Membership is free. Visitors may join at the door outside of the exhibition or become a member prior to the event online at www.harn.ufl.edu/join.

Museum Nights
African Everywhere
February 9, 6 - 9 pm

Tours, art-making, music and dance performances.

Gallery Talk
Posing Beauty: Conversations around Black Beaut
February 19, 3 pm
Jade Powers, Harn Curator of Contemporary Art

HESCAH Lecture
March 30, 6 pm
Posing Questions on Posing Beauty: A conversation with Deborah Willis
Deborah Willis, award winning MacArthur Fellow, artist, curator, professor and eminent scholar in the history of Black photography, and Jade Powers, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Harn will explore topics presented in the exhibition.

Museum Days
Saturday, April 8, 1 – 4 pm

Take a tour and participate in a photography activity.


image credits
Left: Ken Ramsay, "Susan Taylor, as Model," c. 1970s, Courtesy of Susan Taylor
Right: (detail) Lauren Kelley, Pickin', 2007, Courtesy of the artist