Photographs from the last 50 years depicting protests and activism, both domestic and international, adorn the walls of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center this summer in the “Art and Protest: Images of Peace, Protest and Human Rights” exhibit in the Washington Heights building in Upper Manhattan. Robin Elisabeth Kilmer of Manhattan Times reports that in addition to displaying images of protest, the work comes from minority groups.
The exhibit, part of Uptown Art Stroll, an annual art event organized by the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA), features the work of 20 photographers and photojournalists.
“The exhibit is specifically designed to bring Black, Latino and female artists together [on a] visual representation of the theme, which is peace,” said organizer Antwan Minter. “That is what the center is based on, as well as struggle and determination of human rights.”
The images document protests from the Civil Rights movement to Occupy Wall Street, as well as international struggles.
The exhibit opened with a reception on June 3 that was attended by the featured photographers, including Shawn Walker, who has been taking photos since graduating high school in 1958 and has taught at City College.
Five years after stepping into photography, Walker helped start Kamoinge, described in the article as “a collective of African-American photographers whose members are shown in national and international exhibits and institutions.” In addition, “The group sought to address the underrepresentation of black photographers.” His photographs have also appeared in Essence magazine and Encore, which came after his first paid photography job at The Harlem Daily.
However, his protest pictures, which include stop-and-frisk encounters in the 1970’s, have never been exhibited before.
“These images have never been seen before. People never ask for protest stuff—though I do that stuff all the time.”
Walker calls himself “a child of the 60’s,” and a regular participant in protests, including the City College protests in 1969, in which an aggressive affirmative action policy was demanded, as well as in the Harlem riots of 1964.
One visitor, Hui Cox, commented on how society had changed since the 1960s protests that were captured in some of the photos.
“Back then, it was adults getting assassinated. Now, it’s babies getting killed,” he said, contrasting the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys, with the recent massacre in Sandy Hook.
That Malcolm X was assassinated just a few feet away from where he stood did not escape his notice either.
“This place is really special,” said Cox. “It was really tragic what happened here, but now this place is full of positivity. It’s amazing.”
Photographer E. Lee White shared his passion for snapping images of protest. His photos of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan are featured in the exhibit.
“I like it when someone demonstrates their voice. It’s nice to see a real voice.”
White said the images can be educational.
“When you see an image, you think.”
The “Art and Protest” exhibit will run through August 18.