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Mesmerizing and evocative, these 42 photographs and two film installations by contemporary American artist Dawoud Bey contemplate the harrowing journeys and human realities of the Virginia slave trail, Louisiana plantations, and Ohio’s Underground Railroad. Dawoud Bey: Elegy premiers a trilogy that includes Bey’s most recent series of never-before-seen photographs taken in Richmond and commissioned by VMFA. Internationally renowned for his Harlem street scenes and expressive portraits, Bey, in these landscapes, meditates on place as profound repository of memory and witness to American history. In this immersive and transportive exhibition, his works poetically imply a human presence, deepening our understanding of African American experiences rarely represented in collective US history. 

 

Organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Dawoud Bey: Elegy showcases three photographic series. Visitors will first encounter Stony the Road (2023), commissioned by VMFA, which takes viewers to the historic trail in Richmond, Virginia, where Africans arrived in bondage to an unknown land and were walked into enslavement. The photographs in In This Here Place (2021) contemplate the plantations of Louisiana and the toils and horrors of enslavement. Photographed in Ohio, Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2017) elucidates our understanding of the Underground Railroad and the perilous flight to self-emancipation. 

 

The first film installation, 350,000, evokes the 350,000+ men, women, and children sold from Richmond’s auction blocks at Manchester Docks between 1830 and 1860. The film’s soundtrack features Richmond-based professor of dance Dr. Elgie Sherrod. Visitors will also experience Evergreen, a three-channel film installation created in collaboration with composer and experimental ethnographer Imani Uzuri, whose multilayered vocal score adds a haunting soundscape. 

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