This group exhibition is a special iteration of God Made My Face, originally organized by Hilton Als for David Zwirner Gallery in 2019. It presents works from iconic artists such as Richard Avedon, Marlene Dumas, and Kara Walker alongside archival materials in order to explore the life, work, and legacy of James Baldwin (1924–1987). Baldwin’s ways of seeing and being evolved through his relationships and exposure to the work of visual artists, during an era when the harsh realities of racial oppression were confronted with aesthetics emphasizing self-love, pride, and validation. God Made My Face explores Baldwin through his words, relationships, and the works of other artists produced during his own lifetime and today.
Unbeknownst to many, Baldwin served as professor and Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at UMass Amherst from 1983-86, finding a home within the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies and teaching students from across the Five Colleges. This period of Baldwin’s life highlights how far his reach extended beyond the cultural capitals of Paris and New York, where he where he resided for much of his life, as a writer. Baldwin’s engagements as an educator convey his legacy as a mentor to generations of intellectual and creative communities.
Hilton Als is best known for his extensive body of cultural criticism and increasingly appreciated for his curatorial work, including his most recent 2022 exhibition at David Zwirner, Toni Morrison’s Black Book. Along with organizing this iteration of God Made My Face, Als will also be an Amherst College 2022-2023 Presidential Scholar.