A Journey Towards Self-Definition

On View Now: A Journey Towards Self-Definition: African American Artists in the Permanent Collection, Organized by Heather Nickels, Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellowship in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art announces an exciting new exhibition, A Journey Towards Self-Definition: African American Artists in the Permanent Collection, curated by Heather Nickels, the museum’s Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellow in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora. The exhibition, which is on view through May 10, 2020, includes work by Gordon Parks, Ernest C. Withers, Edwin Jeffrey Jr., Joe Light, James Van der Zee, Patrick Kelly, William Edmondson, Purvis Young, Lonnie Holley, and a number of anonymous vernacular photographers.

Nickels arrived at the Brooks in early August 2019. In July 2019, she completed a master’s degree in the History of Art from the world-renowned Courtauld Institute of Art in London, U.K. During her studies, she worked as a Prints Room Assistant at The Courtauld Gallery and as a Digital Assistant at the Courtauld’s Research Forum, a program that offers fellowships, lectures, conferences, workshops and seminars supporting advanced inquiry in the history of art, conservation and museum studies. In 2016, she received her bachelor’s in art history from Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City. Upon completion, she assumed a one-year curatorial position in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and spent over two years providing research and archival support for the landmark exhibition Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, curatedby Denise Murrell, Ph.D., and presented at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University in 2018 and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France in 2019.

Nickels is working on acquisitions and exhibitions for the 103-year old Brooks Museum and is helping the museum launch an affinity group for funding new acquisitions by artists of African descent during her two-year fellowship. The position is named in honor of the late businesswoman and philanthropist Joyce Blackmon, a Brooks board member and an esteemed champion of black entrepreneurship. The Brooks has the largest art museum holdings of photographs by Ernest C. Withers, and nearly 100 works by artists of African descent in its permanent collection, including works by Romare Bearden, Chakaia Booker, Elizabeth Catlett, Sonya Clark, Willie Cole, Glenn Ligon, Whitfield Lovell, Faith Ringgold, Malick Sidibé, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.

A Journey Towards Self-Definition brings together a selection of paintings, photographs, textiles, and sculpture by African American artists in the Brooks’ permanent collection. While Nickels’ specialty is early- to mid-twentieth century African American art, the artists featured in the exhibition were active from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. Each of the works in the exhibition explores a facet of everyday life: politics, religion, community, legacy and history, and how each of those categories influences one’s sense of self and identity.

Founded in 1916, the Brooks recently selected the Pritzker Prize-winning firm Herzog & de Meuron, Basel/New York, as design consultant for its new $105 million facility overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis. The Memphis-based archimania serves as architect of record. The Brooks’ building project is primarily privately funded, with a substantial portion of the cost already secured from individual patrons and arts supporters. The museum anticipates that it will take four to five years to design and build the facility.

Currently located at 1934 Poplar Avenue inside Overton Park, the Brooks is open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free on Wednesdays. For more on the Brooks’ exhibitions and events, call 901-544-6200 or visit http://www.brooksmuseum.org.

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