Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop
In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York came together in the spirit of friendship and exchange and chose the name Kamoinge—meaning “a group of people acting together” in Gikuyu, the language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya—to reflect the essential ideal of the collective. This November, the Whitney opened Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, a groundbreaking exhibition featuring over 150 photographs by fourteen early members of the Kamoinge Workshop, nine of whom are living and working today.
Focusing on the first two decades of the collective (1963-1983), Working Together celebrates the Kamoinge Workshop's important place in the history of photography and foregrounds the collective’s deep commitment to photography’s power and status as an independent art form. The exhibition is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and was curated by Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, associate curator of modern and contemporary art. On view from November 21, 2020 to March 28, 2021 in the Museum’s eighth-floor Hurst Family Galleries, the installation at the Whitney is overseen by Carrie Springer, assistant curator, with Mia Matthias, curatorial assistant.
Though each member of the Workshop developed a unique aesthetic approach and an independent photography career, they shared a perspective echoed in founding member Louis Draper’s statement: “we speak of our lives as only we can.” Highlighting the artists’ distinct visual voices as well as their collective concerns, Working Together primarily includes works from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as well as a selection of photographs unique to the Whitney’s presentation, many of which were recently acquired for the Whitney’s permanent collection. These works, as well as archival materials, foreground the achievements of fourteen early members who joined the collective between 1963 and 1972: Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Nearly sixty years after the Workshop’s formation, their photography, self-organizing, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences still resonate profoundly.