a new exhibit celebrates the life of james baldwin
‘God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin,’ curated by Hilton Als, opens this week at the David Zwirner Gallery.
Photo by Jane Evelyn Atwood. James Baldwin with the bust of his head by American artist, Lawrence Wolhandler in his hotel room, rue des Grands Augustins, Paris, France. 1975. © Jane Evelyn Atwood. Courtesy David Zwirner.
It goes without saying that there’s been a revival of interest in author James Baldwin’s work, perhaps most noticeably illustrated in Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of the If Beale Street Could Talk this year. However, as one of the leading literary voices of the civil rights movement, this is long overdue. “This is in part due, of course, to his ability to analyze and articulate how power abuses through cunning and force and why, in the end, it’s up to the people to topple kingdoms. As a galvanizing humanitarian force, Baldwin is now being claimed as a kind of oracle,” says journalist Hilton Als, who curated a new exhibition of depictions of Baldwin. “But by claiming him as such, much gets erased about the great artist in the process, specifically his sexuality and aestheticism, both of which informed his politics.”
“God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin,” opening this week at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, attempts to tell the writer’s story in its entirety. The first part of the exhibit “A Walker in the City,” depicts the Harlem-born Baldwin’s life straddling New York and Paris, finding inspiration in the works of legendary painter Beauford Delaney, photographers Richard Avedon, a frequent collaborator since Baldwin’s high school years, where they worked on the school magazine together, and Karl Bissinger. While the second part of the exhibition, “Colonialism,” considers themes like the legacy of civil rights, neocolonialism, interracial marriage, and his own sexuality, which he kept quiet for many years, garnering criticism from many black nationalists. A number of Baldwin’s drawings are on display, as well as featured work by Avedon, Bissinger, Delaney, Marlene Dumas, Glenn Ligon, Cameron Rowland, Kara Walker, and James Welling.
"I knew that I was in the hall … but the mirrors threw back only brief and distorted fragments of myself," Baldwin wrote in “Here Be Dragons,” an essay contemplating masculinity in the US in 1985. “Here, those fragments are not necessarily made whole but further explored and seen for the power that Baldwin, flaneur and political philosopher, walker and explorer, emitted in the wholeness of his work and the complications inherent in being a myriad self,“ Als says.
The exhibition is on view at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, from January 10 to February 16 2019. In conjunction with God Made My Face, Als will present a selection of films and visual excerpts of Baldwin on screen at Metrograph .