Signs of Protest: Photographs from the Civil Rights Era

VMFA acquires new works by African American photographers

Signs and protests were inseparable in the 1960s, with words painted or printed large scale to produce maximum impact when photographed or filmed by the media. Like a visual bullhorn, they both amplified and unified the voices fighting injustice. Ninety percent of the works featured in Signs of Protest: Photographs from the Civil Rights Era were acquired by VMFA in the past three years and emphasize the museum’s commitment to diversifying its photography collection.

On view from January 11 to August 3, 2014, the exhibitions includes photographs that feature protest signs, as well as images of the larger culture of resistance surrounding them, with an emphasis on Civil Rights leaders.

Featured icons of the movement include Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael. Benedict Fernandez’s powerful portfolio, Countdown to Eternity, documents the last year of King’s life. Other images express the need for opposition, such as Gordon Parks’ striking photograph of an aunt and niece standing under the neon sign, “Colored Entrance,” outside a movie theater in Alabama. Likewise, Richard Anderson captured a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Richmond, Virginia, with a “Restaurant Closed” sign prominently advertising the store’s refusal to serve its African American customers.

Featured artists include Benedict Fernandez, Gordon Parks, Louis Draper, Beuford Smith, Leroy Henderson, Bob Adelman, among others. Also included is a photograph by South African photographer Ian Berry of the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela.

Signs of Protest is a part of Race, Place and Identity, a community collaboration of eight institutions presenting work inspired in part by Signs of Protest.

Title: Signs of Protest: Photographs from the Civil Rights Era
Date: January 11 – August 3, 2014
Curator: Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Number of works: Approximately 24
Admission: Free

About the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
VMFA’s permanent collection encompasses more than 33,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years of world history. Its collections of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, English silver, Fabergé, and the art of South Asia are among the finest in the nation. With acclaimed holdings in American, British Sporting, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist, and Modern and Contemporary art – and additional strengths in African, Ancient, East Asian, and European – VMFA ranks as one of the top comprehensive art museums in the United States. Programs include educational activities and studio classes for all ages, plus lively after-hours events. VMFA’s Statewide Partnership program includes traveling exhibitions, artist and teacher workshops, and lectures across the Commonwealth. VMFA is open 365 days a year and general admission is always free. For additional information, telephone 804-340-1400 or visit