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Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
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Picturing the Intangible: Oberlin Looks at Dawoud Bey’s “Night Coming Tenderly, Black”

August 29, 2023 - January 21, 2024
In Northwest Ambulatory

Picturing the Intangible: Oberlin Looks at Dawoud Bey’s “Night Coming Tenderly, Black”

August 29, 2023 - January 21, 2024
In Northwest Ambulatory

A large, greyscale photograph by Dawoud Bey captures an opening in the woods–a glimpse of Lake Erie. Details in the photograph come into focus only with prolonged looking, as if adjusting one’s eyes to the darkness of night. In his series called Night Coming Tenderly, Black from which the photograph comes, Bey said, “I didn’t just want to document what remained of that history, but I wanted to find a way through the imagination to make it resonate through the photograph.”

In light of Bey’s aim to use imagination to transcend the documentary role of photography, in this small, experimental installation, the curators dispense with art-historical interpretation to allow visitors to see this photograph through the reflections and alternative connections offered by community members with a personal connection to the work’s subject. They include Langston Hughes’s poem from which the work takes its title, a 19th-century testimonial by a self-emancipated man, the story of a traveler on the Underground Railroad told by his great-great-great-granddaughter, and the voices of the Oberlin Gospel Choir. These voices offer an experience of the work that is more multisensory, deeply personal, and ultimately more historical, than any art historical analysis.

The organizers of this installation wish to acknowledge the thought-partnership and generous sharing of Chanda Feldman, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing; La Tanya Hall, Associate Professor of Jazz Voice and the Oberlin Gospel Ensemble; Maggie Robinson; Liz Schultz, Director of the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Organized by

Sam Adams

Ellen Johnson ’33 Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Hannah Wirta Kinney

Curator of Academic Programs

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