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Syracuse Symposium hosts ‘conversation’ on African, African American beauty Nov. 19
Depiction of African and African American beauty in the media is the subject of a major Syracuse Symposium event. Internationally renowned photographers Deborah Willis and Carrie Mae Weems will engage in a special conversation titled “Posing Beauty” on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. in Syracuse University’s Watson Theater. “Posing Beauty” is taken from an exhibition and book (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009) by the same name, both organized and written by Willis.
The event is free and open to the public, and is preceded by a “Posing Beauty” book sale and author book signing at 6 p.m. in the theater lobby. For more information, call (315) 443-7192.
Syracuse Symposium is organized and presented for The College of Arts and Sciences by the SU Humanities Center. Event co-sponsors are Light Work and the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, the latter of which is in SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
“This event will focus on the representation of African and African American beauty in a variety of historical and contemporary contexts,” explains Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, as well as founding director of the SU Humanities Center and principal investigator of the Andrew W. Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor. “Both speakers are visual storytellers whose work is rooted in memory, history and representation. Their message will surely transcend artistic and racial boundaries.”
Most of the evening will draw on “Posing Beauty,” an acclaimed traveling exhibition of 80 works—black and white, color and digitalized photographs; video installations; and Web-based projects—from private and public collections. Willis says the exhibition, which inspired the book, looks at beauty and art in the media and in various forms of popular culture. “The exhibition questions the relationship between beauty and art by examining the representation of beauty and different attitudes about class, gender and aesthetics,” says Willis, who serves as University Professor and chair of the Department of Photography and Imagining at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
In addition to being a celebrated photographer, Willis is one of the nation’s leading historians and curators of African American culture. Her exhibition is divided into three thematic sections: “Constructing a Pose,” which considers the interplay between the historical and the contemporary; “Body and Image,” which questions the contemporary understanding of beauty; and “Modeling Beauty and Beauty Contests,” which looks at the effect of beauty on individuals and on mass culture. The companion book was published earlier this month.
Weems is one of more than two dozen photographers featured in the “Posing Beauty” book and exhibition. An award-winning visual artist, folklorist and storyteller, she describes her work as “socially engaging,” covering political, cultural and social terrain. “My responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the rooftops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specificity of our historical moment,” Weems said upon receiving the 2005 Distinguished Photographers Award from Women in Photography International. That same year, she also served a first-of-a-kind artist residency in VPA. The Syracuse resident was recently profiled on PBS’ “Art:21—Art in the 21st Century.”
Syracuse Symposium, whose theme this year is “Light,” is a semester-long artistic and intellectual festival. It is one of several initiatives of the SU Humanities Center that include the Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor (an interdisciplinary partnership with SU, Cornell University, and the University of Rochester) and The Jeanette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the Humanities.