At Mary Boone Gallery, The Birmingham Project acts as Dawoud Bey's reflective response and memorial for the six black children that were killed as part of hate crimes on September 15, 1963. Taking photographs of children, the same age as the four girls and two boys that were killed in Birmingham, and juxtaposing them next to older individuals the same age that these children could be now, evokes a deep, emotional response that cannot be ignored. These black and white portraits leave the viewer to wonder about the lives they should have lived and the legacy of their unfinished journeys, still left in Birmingham.
Visiting and reaching out to understand the town's history led Bey on multiple trips to Birmingham over a period of seven years. He chose two unique locations for the photographs, Bethel Baptist Church, an important place for the Civil Rights movement and the Birmingham Museum of Art, which only allowed African American visitors one day of the week, showing the two extremes of the unrest and battle for equality.
Seeing the young person next to the older individual blurs the time that has passed and brings the emotions right back to now. Bey's show brings up many questions about the shocking nature of hate and the power of photography to stir up a memory, carrying on an important discussion.
To accompany these photographs, Bey created a video that calls on viewers to think of that last morning the girls had by considering safer spaces of connection for the African American community, a beauty parlor and barbershop, in conjuncture with places of great hostility, a school classroom and luncheonette. The slow video requires silence and encourages thoughtful consideration.
The show runs through June 28.
Text by Amanda Everich.
Images courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York.