an image of a pinstripe jacket and a yellow paisley tie

The Closet As Archive

a table with collar stays.

Featuring: Dr. Deborah Willis

Presented by: United Photo Industries

Printing support by: Digital Silver Imaging

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Closet As Archive explores the ways in which the concept of memory, beauty, and desire is essential to storytelling. My work looks at concepts of meaning in dress while considering migration, identity, and transformation.

Throughout the history of art and image-making, beauty as an aesthetic impulse has been simultaneously idealized and challenged, and the relationship between beauty and identity has become increasingly complex within contemporary art and popular culture. My work challenges the relationship between beauty and desire by examining the representation as reinvention.

Beauty as an act is fraught with meanings and attitudes about class, race, gender, and aesthetics. I have a curiosity about the closet as a space where identities are formed, and the archive as a treasured space that holds underdeveloped secrets and ideas. Through a sequence of questions, I photograph items pulled out for the camera. They are loaded with narratives that give the garment or object a life of its own, containing stories of travel, family memory, and personal empowerment

The Closet As Archive explores the ways in which the concept of memory, beauty, and desire are essential to storytelling. Curator Kalia Brooks writes:
“The work shown in The Closet as Archive explores the innermost aspects of ourselves, symbolized through the closet space and archival boxes, and how we perform our identities based on how we desire to image ourselves to the world. By investigating the closet as a site where beauty, memory, and labor are enacted, this exhibition celebrates the closet as a space of empowerment for individuals authoring their own identities contrary to social or cultural convention.”

The photographs in the show include images from residential closets and photographic archives, garments found in collections, clothing that evokes personal and cultural identity, and closets and cabinets that store photographs.

By investigating the closet as a site where beauty, memory, and labor are enacted, this exhibition celebrates the closet as a space of empowerment for individuals authoring their own identities, contrary to social or cultural convention.

ARTIST BIO

Photographer Deborah Willis, Ph.D, is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she teaches courses on photography, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender.

Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation, and contemporary women photographers and beauty. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, and co-author of The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles are NAACP Image Award Winners).

Professor Willis’s curated exhibitions include: In Pursuit of Beauty: Imaging Closets in Newark and Beyond at Express Newark, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits at the International Center of Photography, and Reframing Beauty: Intimate Moments at Indiana University.

Since 2006, she has co-organized thematic conferences exploring imaging of the black body in the West, such as the conference titled Black Portraiture[s] which was held in Johannesburg in 2016. Professor Willis’s work has appeared in group and solo exhibitions domestically and abroad.

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