Artist explores the African diaspora in new exhibition

The UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art highlights the photography of Lewis Watts in the new exhibit “Likeness or Not: Reflections from the African Diaspora,” which is on view through Sept. 4 in the J Focus West Gallery.

On Thursday, May 19, at 4 p.m., the artist will present “Faces and Places in the Diaspora,” a visiting artist lecture, in Room 177, Lawrence Hall. The talk also will be livestreamed on the UO Media Services YouTube channel.

“Likeness or Not: Reflections from the African Diaspora” is a collection of photographsthat detail the culture and history derived from the African diaspora. The collection includes portraits of artists, activists, authors and musicians that are important figures in modern African American culture.

The exhibition, organized by associate curator of photography Thom Sempere, also will feature Watts’ photographs of historical publications.

“For more than 50 years, the thrust of my photography practice and research has been grounded by an interest in the culture, history and migration of people of the African diaspora,” Watts said. “The work has evolved into a variety of related series, two of which are represented in the exhibition: portraits of folks who I have been drawn to photograph because they are not letting outside forces determine how they present themselves to the world and who seem to be comfortable in their own skins, and historical African American book covers and pages as both objects and reflections of the narrative of history and in some cases briefs for White supremacy.”

Sempere said the exhibition offers an opportunity to look over the shoulder of a keen observer of both historical and contemporary representations of persons in the African diaspora.

“His subjects are usually aware of his presence, and his engagement with them is central to the work,” he said. “Counterpointing the inherent celebratory nature of the portraits is his series that investigates the history of representations of African Americans in print, the motivations of the authors of those representations, and the narratives they wish to assert. Together, this powerful combination is an important and thoughtful gift to the JSMA collection.”

Watts is a photographer, archivist, curator and Professor Emeritus of art at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research and artwork centers around the “cultural landscape,” primarily in communities in the African diaspora in different parts of the world.

He is the co-author of “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era,” “New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition,” and “Portraits.”