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Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project Opens at George Eastman House on November 1

Moving exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church—a flash point of the Civil Rights Movement

Rochester, N.Y., October 14, 2014—Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project—organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art—makes its debut at George Eastman House on November 1. Chicago-based photographer Dawoud Bey’s The Birmingham Project is a reflection on the September 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This event resulted in the deaths of six African American adolescents, some of the youngest victims of the Civil Rights Movement: Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), who were in the church at the time of the bombing, and Virgil Ware (13) and Johnny Robinson (16), who lost their lives as a result of the ensuing violence. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s Project Gallery through January 25, 2015.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this tragedy, Bey photographed current Birmingham residents; about half of those photographed were the same ages as the victims (11, 13, 14, 16), and the rest were the ages that those children would have been in 2013, had they lived. Thirteen of the sixteen resulting diptychs will be on view in the exhibition at Eastman House.

“By drawing a connection between contemporary individuals—ordinary people with everyday lives—and the echo of figures lost to a struggle that continues today, Bey makes history come alive,” said Lisa Hostetler, Curator-in-Charge, Department of Photography, George Eastman House. “In the process, he draws attention to the powerful way in which photographs imprint subjective experience onto current events and social history. This exhibition is as moving as it is educational. We are honored to display these works and to highlight the ongoing relevance of the struggle for civil rights in America.”

To complement the photographs, Bey made a split-screen, single-channel video, 9.15.63, which juxtaposes a child’s view through the window of a moving car as it approaches the church, with footage of sites charged with significance for the black community in Birmingham during the Civil Rights era—a schoolroom, a lunch counter, a barbershop, and a beauty parlor.

George Eastman House will host a conversation with Dawoud Bey on Thursday, November 6 at 6 p.m. in the museum’s Dryden Theatre. A book signing will follow, and the galleries will be open until 8 p.m. that evening for viewing the exhibition before and after the talk. Tickets are free for Eastman House members, $10 for adults and $5 for students with ID. In addition, Bey will participate in a teacher in-service program for Rochester City School District teachers earlier that afternoon through a grant the museum received from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.

Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project was organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art, which commissioned the work. The exhibition at Eastman House is supported in part by the Rochester Area Community Foundation. The exhibition is included with museum admission. For more information, visit eastmanhouse.org or call (585) 271-3361.

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first one-person exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. He has since had numerous exhibitions worldwide, at such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Barbican Centre in London, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art among many others. Bey holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Art, and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998. For more information about Bey, visit dawoudbey.net.

About George Eastman House

George Eastman House holds unparalleled collections, totaling more than four million objects, of photographs, motion pictures, cameras and technology, and photographically illustrated books. Established as an independent non-profit institution in 1947, it is the world’s oldest photography museum and third largest film archive in the United States. The museum is in Rochester, NY, and includes the National Historic Landmark house and gardens of George Eastman, the philanthropist and father of popular photography and motion picture film. Learn more at eastmanhouse.org.