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Kamoinge is alive and keeps workig.

"Kamoinge is the longest continuously running non-profit group in the history of photography." - Anthony Barboza

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop © Whitney Museum of American Art

Since last November we can finally say that black art has been cleared through customs, for years underestimated, relegated to folk artifacts, masks and necklaces from roadside stands. The Whitney museum has opened an exhibition dedicated to the Kamoinge photography collective and until March 28 is showcasing 140 photographs of 14 of its distinctive talents.

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop focuses on the influential work of Kamoinge's founding members during the collective's first two decades. It includes approximately 140 photographs by fourteen of the early members: Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Nine of these artists still live in or near New York City.

The group originally consisted of four artists, Louis H. Draper (1935-2002), Albert R. Fennar (1938-2018), James M. Mannas Jr. and Herbert Randall, some of whom had been members of another Harlem collective, Gallery 35.

The photographs provide a powerful and poetic perspective of the 1960s and 1970s at the heart of the Black Arts Movement. Some had academic training, others were self-taught. Most supported themselves as photojournalists with freelance work and teaching assignments.

Although each artist had his or her own sensibilities and developed independent careers, the members of Kamoinge were deeply committed to the expressive and political power and status of photography as an independent art form: They boldly and inventively portrayed their communities as they saw and participated in them, rather than as they were portrayed, in often pathetic and patronizing hues, and this perhaps gave their art a density and depth that have since been the primary brand of their success.

In 1963, Kamoinge created for the first time what black artists had hitherto been precluded from doing: a network of exhibition venues, first and foremost, In 1965, the Kamoinge Gallery in a brownstone on West 137th Street and a base of collectors.

Since the founding of Kamoinge its members have participated in hundreds of individual and group exhibitions in major national and international artistic institutions, too numerous to name. Kamoinge members have published scores of photographic books and portfolios, all concerned with the truth, insight and integrity of both the subject and artistic process.

Let's remember that we are in the middle of a culturally difficult period for the United States and for the West in general, and racial politics was certainly not one of the most glorious moments of those decades. However, Kamoinge in not only in the past: the collective has met continuously since 1963 under the leadership of creative and past directors including Anthony Barboza, Roy DeCarava, Louis Draper and Beuford Smith. Under current president, Adger Cowans, the members lecture, conduct seminars, teach in universities while working in fine art, portrait and commercial photography, photo journalism, motion pictures, and multi-media.

Whitney Museum, until March 28th

99, Gansevoort Street New York, NY 10014

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