VMFA to feature work of award-winning photographer Dawoud Bey

Free Press staff report | 10/12/2023, 6 p.m.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) will present the exhibition “Dawoud Bey: Elegy” from Nov. 18 to Feb. 25, …
Dawoud Bey’s “Untitled” (James River) is among the works in the artist’s upcoming exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Courtesy of VMFA

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) will pres- ent the exhibition “Dawoud Bey: Elegy” from Nov. 18 to Feb. 25, 2024. Described as “a profound exploration of early experiences of African- Americans in the United States,” the groundbreaking survey marks the comprehensive exhibition of three photographic series and two film installations by renowned contemporary artist Dawoud Bey (American, born 1953). “Elegy” also will debut Mr. Bey’s newest photographic series, “Stony the Road,” as well as the artist’s latest film, “350,000,” both created in Richmond.

“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is pleased to present this extraordinary opportunity to engage with the powerful and thought-provoking work of Dawoud Bey, one of America’s most significant living photographers,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s director and CEO. “‘Elegy’ opens with ‘Stony the Road,’” Mr. Bey’s series of 12 photographs of the historic Richmond Slave Trail commissioned by the museum.”

Mr. Bey

Mr. Bey

Organized by Valerie Cassel Oliver, the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at VMFA, “Elegy chronicles Mr. Bey’s radical shift from portraiture and street photography to site-specific meditations on history and landscape.

“These histories are no longer visible,” explained Mr. Bey in a VMFA news release. “We, in fact, cannot photograph or make cinematic work about this history. My work deals with trying to reimagine the sites of this history. I apply a set of conceptual, formal, optical and material strategies to the visualization of these spaces that activate the imagination around these particular landscapes that still have deep meaning. This act of radical reimagining allows the viewer to momentarily let go of the fact that you’re looking at a photograph or a film. You can be so deeply drawn into the experience that a film or a photograph is describing— you begin to inhabit it in a way—that it seeps into your consciousness.”

Mr. Bey’s film, “350,000” (2023), is produced in collaboration with cinematographer Bron Moyi, and local production companies, Spang TV and In Your Ear Studios, “350,000 “serves as a poignant reminder of the more than “350,000” men, women and children sold from Richmond’s auction blocks between 1830 and 1860. The film’s soundtrack, designed with Dr. E. Gaynell Sherrod, associate professor of dance and choreography at Virginia Commonwealth University, was produced by recording interpretive dancers’ intonations and movements.