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Dawoud Bey: An American Project brings depth to Black identity

Dawoud Bey “Jacob” (2005) and “Claire” (2004)

Dawoud Bey, a photographer who has captured the essence of identity for decades, bringing depth and humanity to the Black experience. Bey created a buzz in the Jewish world when his photographs of  marginalized bi-racial teens in Harlem were featured in the exhibition The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography. The photos called into question the assumption of that all Jews are white, sparking a dialogue on Jewish identity.  The photographs  included in the program were an extension of his original Project Harlem USA, where he captured Harlem with a raw intensity.

In 2017, Bey received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and is a professor at Columbia College

Dawoud Bey, “Lake Erie and Sky” 2017

in Chicago.  His exhibition at the High Museum of Art, Dawoud Bey: An American Project is made up of about 80- pieces spanning his 40 year career. The show includes his portraits exploring race and his reimaging of the Underground Railroad through the Midwest.


Bey, who was commissioned in 1996for the Museum’s inaugural “Picturing the South” series, which asks noted photographers to turn their lens toward the American South. For his project, Bey collaborated with Atlanta high school students to create empathetic, larger-than-life portraits. Made with the monumental 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera, these photographs explore the complexity of adolescence as a time of critical identity formation and expand the concept of portraiture. The High now holds more than 50 photographs by Bey, one of the most significant museum collections of his work.

“Bey’s portraits are remarkable for their keen sensitivity and for how they elicit and honor their subjects’ sense of self, which is partly an outcome of the artist’s collaborative practice,” remarked Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Given the museum’s long relationship with Bey and the strength of our holdings, we are thrilled to present this important retrospective. We look forward to sharing the artist’s photographs and his powerful and moving reflections on African American history and identity in their country with our visitors.”


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