Family Day on Saturday Brings Many New Faces to VMFA and Posing Beauty

Family Day on Saturday Brings Many New Faces to VMFA and Posing Beauty
by Nicole Gilpin Hood, PhD, chapter journalist for Richmond (VA) Chapter, The Links, Incorporated

Crowds Outside of a Fashionable Negro Church After Easter Sunday

Crowds Outside of a Fashionable Negro Church After Easter Sunday, Chicago, Bronzeville,
April 1941, Edwin Rosskam

Last Saturday, from 1 pm until 4 pm, the doors were open and the whole world came. The family event was called Celebrate African and African American Art – Free style!, held in conjunction with the traveling exhibition Posing Beauty in African American Culture, and every imaginable configuration of the Richmond community attended – young and old, families, couples, individuals, students, teachers, rich, poor, black and white, and anyone else you can picture. People met family members in the Atrium, ran into neighbors in galleries, and squealed with delight at encountering long-lost friends in the Café or the VMFA Shop. They came for performances of the Illstyle & Peace Hiphop dancers, children’s book author Carolivia Herron’s book signings and readings, short film screenings, to be included in the VMFA selfie project, art-making workshops, and a variety of other activities. But mostly and always, they came for Posing Beauty.

The line to view the photography exhibition stretched almost to the Atrium, and museum visitors clutched passes to the exhibit like golden tickets to the greatest exhibition on earth. At the end of the afternoon, 2,500 visitors came to see the show that envisions, foregrounds, privileges, and documents African American constructions of identity and beauty. It was a phenomenal afternoon.

The desire to be viewed as beautiful is among the strongest desires of the human heart. Not frivolous or shallow, it’s a desire to be both seen and valued. And museums are the places where modern cultures express their communal understanding of beauty. Curator Deborah Willis comprehends this desire and her exhibition examines both the desire and the historically constructed nature of beauty within African American culture. It is an unquestionably powerful show that asks compelling questions. Posing Beauty and the companion show Identity Shifts (curated locally by VMFA associate curator Sarah Eckhardt) are showing that Richmond clearly appreciates African American beauty and is hungry for that validation.

“You know what’s interesting?” my friend Christina Draper said to me as we people-watched on Saturday afternoon, “I’ve heard so many people commenting that they’ve never been here before.” Christina and I grew up together here in Richmond, very close to VMFA. Our mothers are friends and they dragged both of us to the museum on hot summer afternoons—for art classes and workshops from the time we were very young. Their influence yielded results: I’m an art historian and teacher and Christina is also an arts educator and administrator. We’re also both members of the Richmond Chapter of the Links, Inc., a group of African American women engaged in community service, who sponsored the events at Family Day.

So when Christina made her observation, I thought for a minute and responded, “But how amazing that all of these people are here today. Isn’t it great that this exhibit brings people in here who’ve never come before?” “It’s your art,” the VMFA tagline seen on many publications and advertisements, was never truer than on Saturday. And maybe those who came for the first time on Saturday will come back for another exhibition or event. I hope so. I really do.

Inspired by the generosity of Richmond (VA) Chapter, The Links, Incorporated, and made possible by the sponsorship of Dominion, the Julia Louise Reynolds Fund and the Miles family, Posing Beauty is now free on Thursdays (tickets required). Encourage your friends who have never visited to stop by!