NYU Kimmel Windows presents “The Black Civil War Soldier” hosted by Deborah Willis, October 13, 2022

New York University’s Kimmel Windows Gallery Presents The Black Civil War Soldieropen October 13 and through February 28, 2023 at the corner of Washington Square East and West 4th Street, viewable 24/7. The Black Civil War Soldier is hosted by Deborah Willis, Chair of NYU Tisch’s Department of Photography and Imaging, and is based on a book of the same name published by NYU Press.

Portraits of black soldiers, whether taken in a photographic studio, on a battlefield, or in a campground, are tied to the concept of democracy and citizenship expressed by abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass.

In this exhibit, Willis seeks to engage that sense of activism and highlight the diverse acts of courage of black men and women, both bound and free, during the Civil War, as well as the rewards that they received. These are experiences shared by all soldiers, regardless of their origins.

“Memory, personal and public, seen through the experience of photography, has shaped the story of the black Civil War soldier. This exhibit captures that story, both difficult and desired. We are looking for memorials on slavery and the Civil War in the North and the South. We are immersed in public debates about the relevance of the Stone Mountain monuments to Grant’s Tomb, “said Willis. “We visit historic sites such as Gettysburg, the museum Civil War Reenactments and the Cyclorama in Atlanta in search of new stories, and many people attend Civil War reenactments and June 19th celebrations.

“There is something about looking at images that forces me to question the narratives of the past. I have long been intrigued by the imagery of black people, and tried to make sense of the story that was told. The images represent visual responses to what we may have been told about a period and prompt questions such as: “How was black male identity formed by images of soldiers in uniform?” she continued.

The exhibit builds on Willis’ book in which she learned about the reality of the Civil War from the letters of black soldiers and the photographs that frequently accompanied them. Black soldiers wrote and received letters from black nurses and teachers, wives and mothers, girlfriends and daughters and doctors (who supported and protested the war), as well as officers whites and their wives. Some letters were written by the soldiers themselves; others were dictated to an anonymous scribe. They convey the importance of family and family ties, the urgent need to belong, the losses caused by war, and the abuse inflicted on enslaved relatives left behind.

Examining diary pages, letters and short stories, Willis draws on the stories these portraits ‘tell’ – to focus on their hope and the sense of what could be gained from loss. These personal memories span decades and centuries to tell us about individual feelings of love and longing, responsibility and fear, commitment and patriotism.

About NYU Kimmel Windows | Art in public places

Kimmel Windows (founded in 2003) is located at LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Street, just one block south of the iconic Washington Square Park. The Windows exist as a unique cultural destination in the heart of New York University in historic Greenwich Village, providing space for exemplary public exhibits. These 13 showcases on the ground floor offer 3 dynamic exhibitions per year. The windows operate under the aegis of the Provost’s Office, the heart of NYU’s Art in Public Places initiative that facilitates the display of art in outdoor spaces around campus. We offer professionally curated, thoughtful, and engaging exhibits curated by NYU graduate students, faculty, departments, and programs, resulting in a program that represents the wide range of scholarly discourse at New York University .

For more information or materials, contact: Pamela Jean Tinnen, 347.634.2938 or [email protected]

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