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Dawoud Bey
Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by Chérie Louise Turner

Dawoud Bey, ''Maxine Adams and Amelia Maxwell,'' 2012, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 40 x 64'' (two separate 40 x 32'' photographs).


Continues through October 19, 2013


This exhibition features the outcome of a project commemorating the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, as well as two murders from the same day, which took place in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. It’s no coincidence that the exhibition is on view during the anniversary of the event, and the project took place around the time of the 50th anniversary. A racially driven attack by the Ku Klux Klan, the bombing resulted in the death of four African American girls; later that day, two African American boys were murdered in unrelated but also racially motivated attacks. 


For this project, Dawoud Bey created large-scale (each image is 40 x 32 inches), black-and-white photo portrait diptychs: on one side is a person the age one of the victims would have been today; on the other is a child the age the victim was the day he or she was killed. The photo shoots took place in two locations: Bethel Baptist Church, which played a role in the civil rights movement, and the Birmingham Museum of Art (the project’s initiator), which prior to desegregation used to allow African Americans to visit only one day of the week, on “Negro day.”


In these powerful images, the gaze of the subject — each of whom is composed seated and cropped from the waist up — is direct and steadfast. This intensity, and the fact that the subject is sitting down, enforces the idea that he or she will not be going anywhere. The subjects claim their spot, and they show no fear; in fact, just the opposite. Additionally, while these images honor lives lost — what was and what could have, should have been — they also give these victims life: we are still here. This is reinforced by the implied sense of time passing. The message is dignified but forceful.

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