The artist explores the African diaspora in a new exhibition

UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is highlighting Lewis Watts’ photography in its new exhibition Likeness or Not: Reflections from the African Diaspora, on view at J Focus West Gallery until September 4th.

On Thursday, May 19, at 4 p.m., the artist will present “Faces and Places in the Diaspora‘, a guest artist talk, in Room 177, Lawrence Hall. The lecture will also be broadcast live UO Media Services YouTube Channel.

Likeness or Not: Reflections from the African Diaspora is a collection of photographs detailing the culture and history of the African Diaspora. The collection includes portraits of artists, activists, authors, and musicians who are important figures in modern African American culture.

The exhibition, organized by Associate Curator of Photography Thom Sempere, will also feature Watts’ photographs of historical publications.

“For more than 50 years, the focus of my photographic practice and research has been based on my interest in the culture, history and migration of people in the African diaspora,” said Watts. “The work has developed into a multitude of related series, two of which are represented in the exhibition: portraits of people I was drawn to photograph because they do not let external forces dictate how they present themselves to the world and who doing so seems comfortable in their own skin, and historical African American book covers and pages as objects and reflections of the narrative of history and, in some cases, as brief for white supremacy.”

Sempere said the exhibition offers an opportunity to look over the shoulder of a keen observer of both historical and contemporary portrayals of people in the African diaspora.

“His subjects are usually aware of his presence, and his commitment to them is central to the work,” he said. “Contrasting with the inherent celebratory nature of the portraits is his series, which examines the history of depictions of African Americans in print, the motivations of the authors of those depictions, and the narratives they seek to assert. Together, this powerful combination makes an important and thoughtful gift for the JSMA collection.”

Watts is a photographer, archivist, curator, and professor emeritus of art at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research and artistic work focuses on the “cultural landscape”, mainly in communities in the African diaspora in different parts of the world.

He is co-author of Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition, and Portraits.

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