Migrations and Meaning(s) in Art an exhibition curated by Dr. Deborah Willis

The exhibition, curated by Willis, the MICA inaugural Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography, explores debates on the topic of migration and begins with a reception Thursday, Jan. 30 and runs through March 15.

WHAT: “Migrations and Meaning(s) in Art” exhibition and reception
WHERE: Meyerhoff Gallery in the Fox Building, 1303 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30
DETAILS: The reception kicks off the exhibition curated by scholar and artist Deborah Willis, PhD, the inaugural Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography, which begins Jan. 30 and runs through March 15. In addition to the exhibition and reception, Willis will host an exhibition panel from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, March 9 in the Lazarus Center Auditorium, 131 W. North Ave., Baltimore.

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is pleased to present “Migrations and Meaning(s) in Art,” an exhibition curated by scholar and artist Deborah Willis, PhD, the inaugural Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography. Featuring a diverse range of local, national and international visual artists, the exhibition explores debates on the topic of migration from historical references such as slavery and emancipation; the Great Migration; and virtual communities from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia. 

Willis selected artwork that considers “how identities are realized, rejected, performed and desired,” as well as the urgency of our present moment, following Nina Simone’s famous statement that artists’ duty is to reflect the times. The exhibition will include photographs, prints, video, animation and sculpture.

“This exhibition foregrounds varied experiences on migration from concepts of dislocation, border crossings and storytelling," Willis said. "The artwork embraces and challenges various narratives on identity through migration practices and looks at the impact and reception both empowering and subjective often explored through gentrification, longing, and trauma — as well as drawing attention to race, class, gender and religion.”


Artists and collectives included in the exhibition are:

Leslie King Hammond, PhD
Leslie King-Hammond an American artist, curator and art historian who is the Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at MICA, where she is also Graduate Dean Emeritus. Hammond’s Barbadian Spirits—Altar for my Grandmother is an homage to women who migrated from the Caribbean and beyond. 

Albert Chong
Alber Chong is a Jamaican-born artist working within the structure of cultural memory and photography, Albert Chong uses passports, family photographs, cowrie shells, beads, hair and text to preserve and give voice to Afro-Chinese Caribbean migration. Chong uses passports, family photographs, cowrie shells, beads, hair, and text to preserve and give voice to Afro-Chinese Caribbean migration.

Renée Cox
Renée Cox is a Jamaican-born African-American artist known for her provocative photographs and videos that address racism and sexism in society. Stories of women warriors are central to the narrative of migration, and Cox’s re-enactment of the figure, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, in this exhibition is realized through her performance of the iconic Jamaica maroon figure.

Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems has investigated family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems and the consequences of power for over thirty years. During this time, Weems has developed a complex body of art employing photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation and video. Weems’ When and Where I Enter— Mussolini’s Rome, 2006, is a large-scale photograph from Weems’ Roaming series. Its title is based on 19th century black woman educator, Anna Julia Cooper’s memoir,

Danny Wilcox Frasier
Documentary photographer and filmmaker Danny Wilcox Frazier focuses his work on marginalized communities both in and outside of the United States. Frazier has photographed people struggling to survive the economic shift that has devastated rural communities throughout America, including in his home state of Iowa. Frazier has a strong sense of conviction about home and place. Iowa is central to his story and conserving a community that chooses not to migrate. What happens when farm communities stay on the land for generations and decide not to move to cities or larger urban settings? 

Tsedaye Makonnen
Tsedaye Makonnen is a multidisciplinary artist who exhibits internationally. Her primary focus is on countries within the Americas and African continent. She explores her hyphenated identity as a daughter of Ethiopian immigrants and a black American woman through her studio and research-based practice. Makonnen’s work consists of photography, sculpture and installation focusing on experiences of forced migrations globally. 

Nate Larson
Nate Larson is a contemporary artist working with photographic media, artist books and digital video. Larson is currently serving as Chair of the Photography Department at MICA.  Larson’s study is inspired by the surviving records of an historic town in the state of Virginia. His images trace the town’s historical buildings and documents the simplicity of the town, the tensions focusing on preserving the memory of the 18th century town and the planned commercial development of the village of Waterford.

Ana Teresa Fernandez
Ana Teresa Fernandez is a Mexican performance artist and painter. Fernandez’s work explores the politics of intersectionality and the ways it shapes personal identity, culture, and social rhetoric. Fernandez resists borders. She actively crosses borders by creating work that challenges the complexity of migration. Her work is performance based and shows the importance of the plight of migrants encountering border walls. 

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum is a figurative artist and designer based in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Sunstrum’s Polyhedra, is an animation that deals with ideas of simultaneity and symmetry that are grounded in ancient mythology, geometry, and science fiction. Her work embodies a multiplicity that is common among people who often live between worlds, cultures, and histories. 

Hank Willis Thomas
Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media and popular culture.  Thomas’s Rich Black Specimen addresses self-emancipation and runaway advertisements during American slavery. Thomas mines a plethora of drawings distilled from the runaway ads in public archives of black men and women dress in loose fitting clothing and carrying sacks as if in flight. 

The full list of participants includes: Sama Alshaibi, Zalika Azim, Taylor Renee Bissey, Terry Boddie, Layo Bright, Albert Chong, Michèle Pearson Clarke, Renee Cox, Jennifer Datchuk, Sonia Louise Davis, Regina DeLuise, Nekisha Durrett, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Ivan Forde, Danny Wilcox Frazier, Daniel Castro Garcia, Lonnie Graham, Leslie King Hammond, Abbigail Hong, Jessica Ingram, Sarah Khan, Nate Larson, Nashormeh Lindo, Tsedaye Makonnen, Qiana Mestrich, Deyane Moses, Susan Harbage Page, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Hank Willis Thomas, HồngÂn Trương, Colette Veasey-Cullors, Carrie Mae Weems, Vicky Zambrano and ForFreedoms.


In 2014, alumnus Stuart B. Cooper ‘72 (Photography BFA) and Rebecca L. Besson established the Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography. This endowed fund will annually bring an acclaimed artist and scholar to engage with the undergraduate Photography Department to inspire the next generation of artists and thinkers in the photographic medium.

The Endowed Chair, which is a unique position, is a critic-in-residence for the undergraduate Photography Department, and will include eight visits over the course of the academic year. The individual in this position will share their practice as an artist, curator and critic with the students, and will engage with students in critical discussions about their emerging practices. The Endowed Chair will provide important feedback and nurture growth in the students through group discussions, individual and group critiques, and topical lectures related to her own scholarship. 


Willis is a university professor and chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on photography a imaging, iconicity and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women and gender. 

She is also the director of the NYU Institute for African American Affairs and the Center for Black Visual Culture. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of slavery and emancipation, contemporary women photographers and beauty. 

Willis received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and was a Richard D. Cohen Fellow in African and African American Art, Hutchins Center, Harvard University; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow; and Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. Fellow. She has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation's leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture. Willis has also authored numerous photography books on African American culture.

Related Events