Cheryl Finley co-curates exhibition at National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Free as they want to be’: Artists Committed to Memory

September 30, 2022 - March 5, 2023

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202

‘Free as they want to be’: Artists Committed to Memory considers the historic and contemporary role that photography and film have played in remembering legacies of slavery and its aftermath and examines the social lives of Black Americans within various places including the land, at home, in photographic albums, at historic sites, and in public memory.

This exhibition acknowledges artists’ constant involvement with efforts to explore the possibilities of freedom and their relationship to it. Their quest to be ‘as free as they want to be’ is envisioned in the subject matter they explore as well as in their persistent drive to innovate aesthetic practices in photographic media. The exhibition presents some 20 artists working in photography, video, silkscreen, projection, and mixed media installation.

‘Free as they want to be’ is inspired by the words of James Baldwin, the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial: World Record, and events of late that have shaped the world as we know it and continue to influence the world as we live in it. The artists selected for this exhibition are on the frontlines, creating, documenting, and writing. The works they have conceived reflect defining moments of our past in the struggle for racial justice and equality.

‘Free as they want to be’ presents an occasion to reflect upon the past, to mark significant defining moments—both triumphs and tragedies—that characterize a people and their experiences in the present, and to propose future possibilities.

Artists: Terry Adkins, Radcliffe Bailey, J.P. Ball Studio, Sadie Barnette, Dawoud Bey, Sheila Pree Bright, Bisa Butler, Omar Victor Diop, Nona Faustine, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Daesha Devón Harris, Isaac Julien, Catherine Opie, Yelaine Rodriguez, Hank Willis Thomas, Lava Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Wendel White, William Earle Williams

Curated by Deborah Willis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and Cheryl Finley, Associate Professor, History of Art at Cornell, Director of the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Art History at Spelman College.

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Free as they want to be: artists committed to memory announcement, statue with grafitti