Moutoussamy-Ashe & Sulter

As part of International Women’s Day (March 8), Oxheys Mill Studios, Preston, presents “Family Album”, rare photographic works by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and Maud Sulter made in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This showcase is curated by Lubaina Himid who will be in conversation with photographer Ingrid Pollard to discuss this body of work on March 8 at 2pm.

Also open all day from 11am to 5pm is a special display called “Portraits: Black Women’s Lives” at the Making Histories Visible archive space, Centre for Contemporary Art, University of Central Lancashire.

Making Histories Visible is an interdisciplinary visual art research project led by Lubaina Himid. The archive contains a collection of paperworks, catalogues and images by and about black artists from exhibitions held internationally during the 1980s and early 1990s, including Chris Ofili, Sonia Boyce, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, to name but a few. The library also houses books focusing on African and Diaspora women’s arts, writings and activism.

About the photographers

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe is a photographer and social activist born in 1951 in Chicago, IL. She is the daughter of John W. Moutoussamy,  architect and Elizabeth Rose Hunt Moutoussamy, interior designer. She began formal painting classes at the Art Institute of Chicago from eight to her teens and decided to become a photographer after coming across Roy DeCarava’s book Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955).

Moutoussamy left Chicago and spent a year at the College of New Rochelle, she then transferred to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, where she completed her BFA in 1975. She spent her junior year abroad visiting seven West African countries, producing three photographic collections. Her experience in Africa helped her land a full-time job at the New York office of the National Broadcasting Company before she had finished college. She joined NBC’s graphic arts department and, by the mid-1970s, had established herself as a photojournalist.

In 1982 Moutoussamy-Ashe published her first collection of photographs, Daufuskie Island: A Photographic Essay, an exploration of the lives of the remaining Gullah-speaking black inhabitants of South Carolina’s offshore islands and coastal regions. This was followed by Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers (1986), a history of African-American women’s contributions to photography. Daddy and Me (1993) is a visual memoir of her daughter and late-husband Arthur Ashe (1943-1993), the African-American tennis legend, activist and humanitarian. She is also the author of African Flower: Singing of Angels (2001).

Her Daufuskie Mermories will be presented at Colombia Museum of Art, Colombia, SC, next May.

Maud Sulter (1960 – 2008) was an award-winning artist and writer, curator and gallerist of Ghanain and Scottish heritage who lived and worked in Britain. She obtained an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Derby in 1990. Her photographic practice included contemporary portraiture and montage. Her work referenced historical and mythical subjects, and focused on the image of black women. She was part of the pioneering women who exhibited in the 1980s during the “critical decade” that saw the emergence of Britain’s Black Art movement.

“Her significance lies in her innovation in photographic forms that investigated the visual representation of black women, not through the more familiar routes of documentary, but through critical inquiry into art’s histories and sustained visual interrogation into the canon of western art. Her works were often preoccupied with lost and neglected figures, examining the ways that the past shapes and can remake the present.” Sulter was also a well known poet and writer on feminism. She won the Vera Bell Prize for poetry in 1985 for her book of poems As a Blackwoman. Her other publications include the seminal Passion: Discourses on Blackwomen’s Creativity (1990).

Syrcas, an exhibition of sixteen original photomontages by Maud Sulter, is currently on at Autograph ABP, Rivington Place, London.

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