Night Coming Tenderly, Black
The Underground Railroad is shrouded as much in myth as it is in fact. Neither the “stations,” points where escaping slaves were taken in and hidden, nor the actual path they took were meant to be known. Night Coming Tenderly, Black is a visual reimagining of the landscape through which fugitive slaves moved across the Cleveland and Hudson, Ohio landscapes as they made their way towards Lake Erie and the final fifty-mile passage to freedom to Canada. Using both real and imagined sites, these photographs seek to approximate the spatial and sensory experience of those moving furtively through the darkness, and the landscapes they encountered.
These landscape are also in material conversation with the African American photographer Roy DeCarava, whose works often reveal its black subjects through the darkness of a tonally rich but subdued photographic print. This similar darkness in my own work functions as a metaphor for the enveloping darkness that provided a passage to liberation and a protective cover for escaped slaves. A final touchstone for this work is Langston Hughes’ poem, Dream Variations, featuring its final refrain: “Night coming tenderly/Black like me.”
Installing the photographs in the pews of St. John’s Episcopal Church—which served as Station Hope, the final station for escapees before their journey across Lake Erie—situates the work at the actual site of this resonant history.
Dawoud Bey began his career as an artist in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first one-person exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. He has since had numerous exhibitions worldwide, at such institutions as the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and other museums worldwide. His works are included in the permanent collections of over fifty museums throughout the United States and Europe.
His many museum-based projects have been focused on making those institutional spaces more accessible to the communities in which they are situated. He has been particularly concerned with making those spaces more accessible to young people through his participatory projects. These projects have been completed with a wide range of institutions, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Walker Art Center, Wadsworth Atheneum, Wexner Center for the Arts, and the National Portrait Gallery, London among many others. His curatorial projects have included a number of exhibitions curated for such institutions as the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, DePaul Art Museum, Hyde Park Art Center, Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Walters Art Museum, and the Weatherspoon Art Museum.
Bey’s work is included in numerous publications, and is the subject of several monographs and publications, including Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007), Harlem, USA (Yale University Press, 2012), Picturing People (Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 2012), and Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project (Birmingham Museum of Art, 2013). In 2018 a major forty-year retrospective publication, Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply, will be published by the University of Texas Press.
Bey is a recipient of a 2017 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, also known as “the Genius Grant,” a United States Artists fellow, and the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lucie Foundation, among others honors.
Dawoud Bey holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Art, and is currently Professor of Art and a former Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.