In the 1960s, these African American photographers came together to fight underrepresentation in the art world

In 1963, responding to their underrepresentation in the art world, two groups of African American photographers met in New York and decided to join forces. The result was a collective called Kamoinge. The word comes from the Kenyan language of Gikuyu and means “a group of people acting and working together.”

The collective would meet weekly to look at one another’s work, support each other and organize exhibitions of their work. Kamoinge also helped produce the Black Photographers Annual, which featured the work of black photographers at a time when mainstream publications didn’t provide many opportunities for their work.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is holding an exhibition of the collective’s work, called “Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop.” The event is curated by Sarah Eckhardt, the museum’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, and showcases nearly 180 photographs by 15 of Kamoinge’s earliest members.

“Working Together” introduces the public to Kamoinge’s first 20 years and, according to a news release for the exhibition, “tells the story of the first two decades of this collective of artists, who expanded the boundaries of photography as an art form during a critical era of Black self-determination in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Draper, one of Kamoinge’s founders, said of the collective:

“Cognizant of the forces for change revolving around Kamoinge, we dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can. … This was our story to tell, and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed and that countered the untruth we’d all seen in mainline publications.”

The exhibition features work by Louis Draper, Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Danny Dawson, Roy DeCarava, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas Jr., Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker and Calvin Wilson.

The exhibition is free to the public, is held in the museum’s Evans Court Gallery and runs until June 14. You can find more information about it here.

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