DIA Offers Rare Look at Work of Ghanaian Photographer James Barnor

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) proudly presents the highly anticipated exhibition, “James Barnor: Accra/London—A Retrospective,” featuring the groundbreaking works of the renowned Ghanaian photographer. This retrospective marks the first-ever comprehensive display of his influential photographs in the United States.

Opening its doors to the public from May 28 to October 15, 2023, the exhibition will captivate visitors with over 170 captivating images carefully selected from Barnor’s vast archive of over 32,000 pictures. These extraordinary photographs, captured between the 1950s and 1980s, provide a captivating glimpse into both Barnor’s native Ghana and the African diaspora in the United Kingdom during significant periods of social and political transformation.

“I am honored the Detroit Institute of Arts chose to spotlight my work, allowing Detroit audiences to receive an opportunity to discover the important years in African history and culture that the photos represent,” said photographer James Barnor. “It is my hope that these images can inspire a new generation of artists.”

Originally initiated and organized by Serpentine, London, the acclaimed exhibition debuted in 2021 and quickly gained recognition. Curated by Lizzie Carey-Thomas, Chief Curator at Serpentine, and Awa Konaté of Culture Art Society (CAS), along with the collaboration of Clémentine de la Féronnière, Sophie Culière (James Barnor Archives), and Isabella Senuita, the exhibition also made a successful appearance at MASI Lugano, Switzerland, in 2022 after its London showing. The DIA’s presentation of “Accra/London” includes additional photographs by Barnor from the museum’s permanent collection. Notably, the DIA will recreate Barnor’s renowned Ever Young portrait studio, offering visitors a rare glimpse into his early artistic environment.

“It is with tremendous pride that we present James Barnor’s brilliant photography, and this exhibit represents a milestone moment for our museum as we share his important, impactful work,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “I express my sincere gratitude to our co-curators, Nii and Nancy, for their tireless work bringing this exhibit to our community and leading this critical dialogue.”

This significant exhibition builds upon a series of DIA programs dedicated to amplifying Black voices from around the world while fostering a deeper understanding of the historical context of these pivotal decades. Following the widely celebrated DIA exhibitions that showcased the works of Black artists like “Black Is Beautiful: The Photographs of Kwame Brathwaite” (2021), “Shirley Woodson: Shield of the Nile Reflections” (2021), and “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” (2021), among others, “James Barnor: Accra/London—A Retrospective” continues the museum’s commitment to highlighting diverse artistic narratives.

“It is a pleasure to present this important photographic collection about African life and history,” said Nii Quarcoopome, Department Head of Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas, and Curator of African Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “Barnor’s intimate photographs challenge and expand our notion of African art; they also tell stories about Accra and London where he lived and worked, capturing the lives and lifestyles in transition in Africa and the diaspora. We hope this illuminating presentation encourages further discussion and discovery of Africa from this period.”

Nancy Barr, Department Head, Prints, Drawing and Photographs and James Pearson Duffy Curator of Photography at the Detroit Institute of Arts, emphasized the museum commitment to showcasing a diverse range of photography from various voices and backgrounds. “The Detroit Institute of Arts is committed to portraying a wide range of photography from different voices, viewpoints, and backgrounds, and this incredible show exemplifies our continued efforts,” said Nancy Barr. She further expressed delight in bringing Barnor’s vibrant images, including some from the museum’s own collection, to American audiences. These images documented a significant moment in history, and the museum was thrilled to share them with the public.

James Barnor’s artistic career spans six decades and has enriched the diversity of contemporary African art beyond textiles and sculptures. Born in 1929 in Ghana, Barnor established his famous Ever Young Studio in Accra in the early 1950s, where he captured portraits of political, cultural, and local figures. In 1959, he relocated to London, where he found success as a fashion and editorial photographer, working with African magazines like Flamingo and the anti-apartheid South African publication Drum. His cover photographs and feature stories reflected the spirit of the times and the vibrant styles of the African diaspora. Upon his return to Ghana in the 1970s, Barnor established the country’s first color photo processing lab and continued his work as a portrait photographer. Throughout his illustrious career, he collaborated with Ghanaian Highlife musicians and documented fashion, sports, and society with exceptional passion. Now in his 90s, Barnor currently resides in London, and his artistic legacy continues to inspire generations of artists and photographers.

Audiences are encouraged to discover the significant milestones in modern African history, experience the vibrant energy of the African diaspora, and witness the transformative power of photography.

For more information about the exhibition “James Barnor: Accra/London—A Retrospective,” including opening hours and ticketing details, please visit the DIA’s official website https://dia.org/jamesbarnor


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