The only museum in the nation emphasizing art
by women of the African Diaspora
Southeast Debut of New Work by Deborah Roberts at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art Opens January 2018
Please give to the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art during its 20th anniversary season

Please give to the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art during its 20th anniversary season

2016 has been an exceptional year for the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. During this season of charitable giving, relive highlights from our 20th anniversary and consider supporting the Museum by making a tax-deductible gift. Your generosity will help...
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Become a Friend of the Museum Today!

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The Spelman College permanent collection dates to the 1940s and includes more than 350 objects. The growing collection also includes African art and works by celebrated artists of African descent. To honor its unique mission, the Museum acquires art that highlights the wide spectrum of works that women artists of the African Diaspora create.  Look forward to a monthly inside peek on a work from the College’s permanent collection.



Jacob Lawrence, Praying Ministers, 1962


Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000)
Praying Ministers, 1962
Tempera on masonite
28¼ x 40¼ inches
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Adolph Berle, 1968.04


Jacob Lawrence is one of the most prolific American artists of the twentieth century. As a painter, storyteller, and educator, he was among the first African American artists to be represented by a New York gallery, have his work featured in prominent art museums, and consistently receive recognition. His work is in the permanent collections of art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Lawrence is known for his epic series that celebrate and chronicle the lives of everyday people to game changing historical figures and pivotal events in the history of the African diaspora. The extensive series of visual narratives include the Harriet Tubman series (1938 – 1940), The Migration of the Negro (1940 – 1941), The Builders (1947), The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1986 – 1997), among others. He is acclaimed for an unparalleled modernist painting style, depicting his figures in geometric shapes and dynamic poses that he rendered in bold, contrasting primary colors.

Sparked by media images from civil rights events in the South, Lawrence created works that explicitly commented on racial injustice. In Praying Ministers, (1962), Lawrence captures a poignant moment in the civil rights movement. A group of interracial and interfaith clergy members gather in prayer flanked by two police officers dressed in riot gear. Lawrence emphasizes their somber resignation and despair by rendering the ministers’ kneeling bodies in dramatic contrasts of light and dark murky colors, with bowed heads and exaggerated, clasped hands. An assembly of protestors in the background sets and amplifies the tone for the urgency of the moment.

As the United States continues to grapple with racism and ongoing systems of oppression, Praying Ministers, unfortunately, is as timely then as it is now. This powerful work, and the entirety of Lawrence’s sixty year career, serve not only as reminders of his involvement in using art as activism, but also as meditations on the African American experience and the quest for freedom, equality, and dignity. Praying Ministers is currently on extended loan and featured in the exhibition Visual Art and the American Experience at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.



Beverly Buchanan, Untitled (Red Ladder), 1995


Beverly Buchanan (1940–2015)
Untitled (Red Ladder), 1995
Wood and mixed media
Spelman College Museum of Fine Art
Gift of Lucinda and Robert Bunnen

Beverly Buchanan began creating her shack sculptures in the mid-1980s while living and working in Macon, Georgia. While she made large-scale abstract paintings and land art in her early career, she is widely recognized for her sculptures of shacks made from media such as wood, tin, cardboard, foam core, and other materials. As a young girl, Buchanan accompanied her great-uncle, Walter Buchanan, the Dean at the School of Agriculture at South Carolina State University, as he traveled throughout rural South Carolina. Her shacks, which are clearly informed by the tenant farmers she met, exemplify the creativity and ingenuity that is often a hallmark of southern vernacular architecture.

Like many of her other shacks, Untitled, Red Ladder (1995), an evocative rendition of a shotgun house, draws from her childhood recollections and experiences. While they capture the dwellings she saw, they also explore the historic legacy of slavery and racism in America and exemplify her lifelong investigation of gender, class, inequality, and social and economic injustice. Through works such as this that highlight some of the most vulnerable, forgotten communities of the rural South, Buchanan brings the complex relationships between commemoration, social justice, and marginalization into a critical context.



Sheila Pree Bright, Suburbia

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967)
Untitled #5, #3, #28 (from the Suburbia series), 2008
Chromogenic prints
15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative Purchase, 2012.2, 2012.1, 2012.9

Sheila Pree Bright is an Atlanta-based, award-winning fine art photographer nationally known for her photographic series Young Americans, Plastic Bodies, Suburbia, 1960 Who, and #1960Now. Bright is described as a “social cultural anthropologist” whose works combine a wide range of contemporary culture including photographic portrayals and provocative commentary on American beauty standards, urban and suburban themes, citizenship, and social movements.

Suburbia is a nuanced and self-reflective meditation on race and class in the suburbs that focuses exclusively on the homes of African Americans. This body of work disrupts the American media’s projection of the “typical” African American community and depicts a more realistic and common ideology of African American life. Suburbia also examines the variations and similarities of an existence that subverts lifestyle and culture, particularly as it relates to Americanism. In 2006 Bright won the Santa Fe Prize from the Santa Fe Center for Photography for this extensive series.

Sheila Pree Bright is currently documenting the protests and youth leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement in the series #1960Now and is incorporating the moving image and archival materials.



Myra Greene, Untitled from the series Character Recognition, 2004 – 2007

Myra Greene
 (American, b. 1975)

Untitled from the series Character Recognition, 2004 – 2007
Ambrotype on black glass

3 x 4 inches (#12), 4 x 3 inches (#53)
15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative Purchase, 2011.4.a-b

Myra Greene is a photographer and the 2016 – 17 Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Spelman College. The artist enjoys exploring photographic processes that engage issues about the body, memory, the absorption of culture, and the ever-shifting identity of African Americans. In 2013, Greene started experimenting with African fabrics as a material and pattern to explore her own relationship to culture through the deconstruction and reconstruction of textiles. Her current projects include creating protest quilts as a means to think about the act of sewing and art making as protest.

Character Recognition

Character Recognition is a series of ambrotype self-portraits. The intimate portraits, character studies of sorts, tightly frame the artist’s face and, specifically, close-up views of her ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. By employing ambrotypes, which first came into use in the early 1850s, Greene deliberately recalls a medium that has been outmoded for more than a century.

On the series, Myra Greene explains:

Confronted with an upswell of bigotry both personal and public, I was forced to ask myself, what do people see when they look at me. Am I nothing but black? Is that skin tone enough to describe my nature and expectation in life? Do my strong teeth make me a strong worker? Does my character resonate louder than my skin tone? Using a photographic process linked to the times of ethnographic classification, I repeatedly explore my ethnic features in Character Recognition. The lessons learned are haunting and frightening in these modern times.



Lauren Kelley, Big Gurl, 2006

Lauren Kelley (b. 1975) Big Gurl (stills), 2006. Digital animation. Total running time 8:12 minutes. 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative Purchase, 2012.6

Big Gurl on Vimeo

Lauren Kelley uses stop-motion animation to explore stereotypes of femininity and race. By using her voice to speak for a cast of black dolls, Kelley breathes life into plastic characters while poignantly and humorously addressing issues such as gender, womanhood, and the human condition. Whether telling stories of unplanned pregnancy or exploring the world of flight attendants, Kelley’s work introduces its viewers to a world in which dolls and puppets are caught in endless streams of consciousness and are trapped in a bizarre theater of the absurd.

In Big Gurl, Kelley uses a combination of Barbie™ dolls, Claymation, and stop animation to create a series of satirically comedic and outrageously humorous vignettes. While Barbie™, the popular mass-produced doll, is frequently referenced in popular culture, the artist brings a unique perspective to the doll’s iconic frame. In this work, Kelley alters the doll to create a variety of shades, shapes, and sizes to address the spectrum of black female physique as well as tackle the serious subjects of pregnancy, male chauvinism, self-image, intergenerational relationships, and class. Challenging the notion of physical imperfections, Kelley ultimately investigates the spaces, allotted and claimed, to explore ideas about female adolescence and womanhood.

Lauren Kelley, Big Gurl, is featured in tête-à-tête, a group exhibition in its seventh iteration curated by Mickalene Thomas. tête-à-tête is concurrently on view with Mickalene Thomas: Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities through May 20, 2017.



Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry, Man with Dignity and Woman with Dignity, 2008

Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry (American, b. 1966 & 1964) Man with Dignity and Woman with Dignity, 2008 From the Whitewash series, 2006-2009 Oil on linen, toner on silk (diptych) 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative Purchase, 2012.22.a-b


Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry have worked and exhibited their work internationally. Through their large-scale public projects, performative sculpture, painting, photography, video, and self-portraiture, they explore complex issues revolving around marginalized members of society. They also challenge audiences to face issues of race and social justice in communities, history, and the family.  Embedded within their work, whether it is of an historical, personal, or civic-based nature, is their ability to address the complicated and layered issues of race and power as a mixed-race artists collaborative.

Man with Dignity and Woman with Dignity are from Whitewash, a series of paintings that examines the history of race in the United States through the depiction of social injustice during the civil rights era. A striking combination of painting and photography, the artists’ distinctive process for this series was inspired by the concept of ‘whitewashing’ as a means of masking the truth. With an almost three-dimensional effect, these doubled images stand as a visual metaphor for the variety of ways that memory and history are both similar and different.



Nandipha Mntambo, Mlwa ne Nkunzi

Nandipha Mntambo, South African (b. 1982) Mlwa ne Nkunzi, 2008, Archival ink on cotton rag paper. Diptych, 44 x 33 inches each. Purchased with support from Spelman College Life Trustee Vicki and John Palmer in honor of The 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative

Nandipha Mntambo is recognized as a leading artist in South Africa. She investigates and interrogates stereotypical ideals of the female form, as well as notions of femininity in her art. Mlwa ne Nkunzi is a diptych in which the artist is posed as the matador (Mlwa) in one of the photographic panels and as the bull (Nkunzi) in the other. Mlwa ne Nkunzi references a Swazi fighting ritual and recalls the bullfighting of colonial Mozambique and modern day Portugal.

Employing cowhide as a medium, the artist questions the use of conventional art materials and products. Additionally, because the cowhides must be manipulated and shaped, she works through aspects of control. She further explores the broader themes sexuality, male and female, internal and public, conflict and contest, and the thin line between the repulsive and attractive. Through Mntambo’s study of the spectacle of bullfighting, the artist deftly addresses the cross-cultural struggles around gender-definition.