Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History and Community is an annual, eight-month program in which New York high school students explore the history and techniques of art and photography. Since the program’s founding in 2001, the James VanDerZee (1886–1983) archives—housed at The Studio Museum in Harlem—have been the primary catalyst for students’ critical reflections on the representation of culture and community. Now in its eleventh year, the program and exhibition continue to be impassioned considerations of VanDerZee’s timeless themes and testaments to the Studio Museum’s commitment to the development of emerging artists.
This year’s exhibition, as it is, as it could be, illustrates the wide-ranging personal and visual narratives of the 2011 Expanding the Walls participants. Comprising both color and black-and-white digital photographs, this exhibition explores and grapples with the present while simultaneously imagining what the future might hold. Some of the artists have chosen to illuminate their immediate surroundings, giving viewers a glimpse into their communities and day-to-day routines. Their everyday sites and interests include New York landmarks, unused architecture and graffiti, as well as glimpses of nature in and outside the city. Other artists in the exhibition look at their home city in a global context, exploring the impact of the United States military on individual people, for example, as well as the physical presence in the city of people born abroad. With tilted angles and extreme close-ups, the photographs reflect the artists’ varying perspectives on art and their lives.
as it is, as it could be juxtaposes images taken by VanDerZee, the iconic chronicler of the Harlem community, with photographs by a group of young artists. Like VanDerZee, they pay close attention to people and their environments, find beauty in ordinary objects and places, and make meaning from local geography. Providing insight into the artists’ current realities and the visual history of Harlem, the photographs illustrate the many possibilities the young artists envision for their futures.
Expanding the Walls is made possible with support by the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; Colgate-Palmolive; Deutsche Bank; The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; Dubose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund and The David Rockefeller Fund.
Our deepest gratitude goes to Donna Mussenden VanDerZee for her continued support of The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Expanding the Walls program.